Mormon Meeting House Gets Design Feedback from Wilton’s Architecture Review Board

During the Thursday, June 9 meeting, the Architectural Review Board (ARB) and Village District Design Advisory Committee (VDDAC) weighed projects large and small involving some of Wilton’s most familiar spaces.

77 Danbury Rd.

An overhead view of the current circuitous route for drivers around the ASML property. (Town of Wilton application file)

First up on the docket, ASML presented to the ARB as part of an ongoing special permit and zoning text amendment application for the complex at 77 Danbury Rd. The company, which recently announced plans to expand its Wilton-based workforce by 1,000 employees, is seeking to reroute its driveway along a shorter but steeper path through the site.

The project team previously presented to ARB on screening, lighting, and materials to be used in the expansion, and underwent a pre-application review with P&Z to discuss modifications to the town’s steep slopes requirements. They returned to ARB with minor updates on the first two topics, but a significant change to the physical design of the new driveway.

Joe Canas, the principal engineer at Tighe & Bond, explained that recent boring for the project revealed that the exposed rock face that ASML had hoped to uncover does not exist on the site. The project team then needed to amend the plan to include retaining walls along the driveway, which ASML proposes should match the modular block walls found elsewhere on the site. The choice of material was not well received.

Materials array planned for the driveway project at ASML (Town of Wilton application file)

“What you’re sensing is that we’re all a little dismayed by that particular modular block on something with such a public face,” commissioner Kevin Quinlan explained. “We expressed a preference for something more natural.”

Jim Murphy of Gregory and Adams, attorney for the applicant, explained that the material would be mostly out of sight due to a significant amount of woodland area between this area and both the nearby neighbors and Rte. 7. However, he conceded, in winter, some of the foliage would be considerably more sparse.

The Commission members were clear in their dislike of the modular block option, but focused on solutions.

“I can live with the blocks if you add landscape that conceals them over time,” said Chair Rob Sanders, adding that, “ASML is an excellent corporate citizen and the care you’re taking and taking care of neighbors is appreciated.”

After exchanging ideas about various additional landscape screening options, the Commission thanked the project team for a thorough presentation. ASML will not be required to return to ARB after this point, though the broader special permit and zoning change review process will soon begin with P&Z.

LDS Meeting House at 241 Danbury Rd.

The next topic was the application by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) to build a new meeting house on the long-vacant property at 241 Danbury Rd., which lies across the street from Wilton City Hall. GOOD Morning Wilton previewed the details of the application earlier this week.

Updated rendering of proposed meeting house (Town of Wilton application file)

The presentation opened with Robin Benning and Rob Burgheimer from Sketch Architecture Company, based in Arizona, explaining a late change to the plans that was welcomed by the members of ARB.

After reaching an agreement on shared parking with neighboring sites, the project team proposed eliminating the driveway and 13 parking spaces that separate the building from Danbury Rd. Instead, the driveway would run along the north side of the building with the bulk of the parking in the back. Replacing what would have been asphalt, the LDS is considering a public green space that would include a monument or plaque tribute to black and enslaved residents of Wilton. This change would still leave the project with more than its required 75 parking spaces and the members of ARB applauded the direction.

“There is an aesthetic feel in this area,” Sanders noted, highlighting the Town Hall, Our Lady of Fatima Church, and the former Baptist Church as examples. “Parking in the front of the building is something we don’t love. And we’re very in favor of shared parking, especially on a site that is filled on Sundays and lies next to a medical building that is empty on Sundays.”

From an aesthetic standpoint, the ARB offered a long list of suggestions for the design of the building. Sanders pointed out that the northern elevation is the most visible side of what he called a “360-degree site,” and encouraged the project team to be more thoughtful in its design. ARB member John Doyle suggested bringing the gable forward and extending a series of windows to ground level. ARB member Kevin Quinlan expressed concern about the use of aluminum siding rather than a more natural material and wondered whether the design simply included “too many materials.”

As a reference, the Commission suggested that the LDS project team study the design and use of materials in the Wilton Congregational Church, which Sanders called, “a nice, proportional approach.”

The meeting ended positively, with ARB welcoming the LDS project team back when an updated and more detailed site plan is ready.

Wilton Congregational Church at 70 Ridgefield Rd.

The Congregational Church was itself on the agenda, if for a much smaller application. The Church is seeking to install a new emergency generator in a used mechanical space inside the historic building. This is the second application for the addition of this equipment; a previous application that featured an external generator was withdrawn following complaints from neighbors. As with the previous proposal, the church plans to offer its space as a community facility in the event of an emergency, offering heating, cooling, charging, and meal service.

North elevation of Wilton Congregational Church showing chimney addition. (Town of Wilton application file)

The generator installation will receive the addition of an exhaust chimney in the front of the church and an intake louver located in the back. In April, the Historic Districts and Historic Properties Commission voted to issue a certificate of appropriateness for the project. The project team received a similarly warm welcome at ARB.

“The Church should be lauded for moving on from the previous proposal,” said Sanders. “This is a tremendous advance.”

The members of ARB had only a few suggestions for the design, particularly a suggestion from Quinlan that the design of the new chimney should mirror the corbelling seen in the existing historic chimney.

Looking Ahead

The next meeting of the Architectural Review Board/Village District Design Advisory Committee is scheduled for Thursday, July 7.