In an efficient but substantive meeting Monday night, March 22, 2021, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved applications for two new “middle-housing” residential projects, granted a parking waiver to a new medical office and surgical center, and also discussed the extension of outdoor retail and dining permits granted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two residential projects that were given nods factor into the current discussion around local zoning control and housing availability in Connecticut, as both projects can be seen as the kind of alternative housing that advocates want to increase in communities like Wilton, which primarily offers two-acre residential zoning. Both new projects will add more diverse housing options once completed.
487 Danbury Road
The Commission unanimously approved SP#475, a special permit application submitted by Rob Sanders Architects “for construction of a new building with two 2-bedroom apartments on existing Adaptive Use property” at 487 Danbury Road. The property is owned by SSS Investment, LP.
“Adaptive use” allows for new uses such as office or retail space while preserving important aspects of historic properties on or near Danbury Road. In order to meet approval by the town, the construction must “enhance and preserve the exterior and interior integrity of the structures; increase the functionality of obsolete or under-utilized structures, enhance and preserve the aesthetic appearance of the remainder of the property; and maintain the general character of the neighborhood,” according to Wilton’s adaptive use regulation.
487 Danbury Road is a 1.68 acre site which includes the historic Charles Scribner house, built in 1840, as well as a second building built around 1900. Currently, those buildings are used for a mix of office and residential purposes.
The regulation allows for either expansion or detached new construction “not to exceed fifty percent of the total gross floor area of the existing structure(s)”.
As shown in the plan below, the proposed new building would be sited slightly to the south and west of the existing buildings. It be a two-story, 2,024-square-foot building, with a two-bedroom apartment on each floor.
According to the application documents, the new building would be “designed to resemble a converted 19th century agricultural barn similar to others along this stretch of Danbury Road.” It is envisioned to have pine vertical shiplap siding, divided light windows, bluestone walkways and terraces, and fieldstone retaining walls, among other features.
This is not the first time an applicant has proposed building apartments on the property.
In 2019, a different applicant was denied a permit for three one-bedroom apartments on the property amid questions as to whether the application had met the adaptive use regulations, particularly as to how the proposed new building related to the historic building.
Sanders may have been more attuned to such questions, as he also serves as the chair of Wilton’s Village District Design Advisory Committee and Architectural Review Board (VDDAC/ARB).
183 Westport Road
The Commission also unanimously approved SUB#921, a 4-lot subdivision application submitted by Kevin E. O’Brien for the property located at 183 Westport Road. The property is owned by 183 Westport Road, LLC.
Earlier in the application process, however, the owner of an adjacent property had submitted a letter of objection, citing several concerns about the original proposal and potential impact on nearby properties, particularly his. Among the concerns were: the presence of substantial rock ledge on the property that would require blasting which could adversely affect the integrity of historic buildings in the area as well as nearby wells; water runoff issues that would exacerbated by the new subdivision; and the applicant’s request to waive an open space requirement. “Westport Road is a bucolic residential neighborhood and any development should respect the country and neighborhood feel of the street/area,” the resident said.
The applicant had recently submitted additional information to the Commission addressing the drainage concerns and other questions. Satisfied with the additional information, the commissioners agreed the proposal was a “straightforward subdivision application” that “falls within the regulations,” and thus approved it.
Commission chair Rick Tomasetti said it was “a good example of using the landscape you have… and it’s what we need, some homes on 1-acre.”
60 Danbury Road
The Commission also unanimously approved SP#467, a request for parking waiver for 60 Danbury Road. The roughly 75,000-square-foot building, previously occupied by Sun Products Corp., is being converted to medical offices and an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) by the new owner, Wilton Medical Realty, LLC.
The applicant submitted evidence demonstrating “the site contains sufficient parking supply to support the proposed ASC facility and medical office.” With a total expected demand of 343 parking spaces, and a supply of 368 spaces, a waiver was requested from the 372 parking spaces the zoning regulations would normally have required.
Outdoor Retail and Dining Permits
The Commission had a brief discussion of REG #21386, “proposed amendments to Sections 29-6.C.5.c, 29-6.A.4.f, 29-6.B.4.d, modifying text to the Permitted Accessory Uses” to allow outdoor retail and dining in locations like Wilton Center and other business zones, by extending the expiration date to Dec. 1, 2021.
Town Planner Michael Wrinn noted that Gov. Ned Lamont‘s executive order (which bypassed Wilton’s P&Z permitting process) is set to expire April 19. He said there is some ongoing effort to try to extend it.
“I’m hoping it stays,” said Wrinn, with uncertainty about the pandemic’s trajectory and the belief that some people will continue to avoid indoor shopping/dining over the next several months.
The commission has more control on extending the special permits to those who applied for one from the town, including a number of restaurants. Other establishments would fall into more of a gray area if the governor’s executive order goes away. One example is Orem’s diner, which erected a large tented dining area during the pandemic under the executive order. (The Health Department will be more involved in the process once the governor’s order expires.)
Tomasetti wants to see the topic as part of a “comprehensive reform of outdoor dining,” pointing out that expectations for it have changed during the pandemic.
The public hearing on this matter will remain open for the time being. The Commission will take further action once direction from the governor is clear.