Residents and town officials looking for more amenities in Wilton have gotten a major wish granted. The CT Department of Transportation (CT-DOT) has approved moving forward on a new lease agreement with the Town of Wilton for the state-owned land at Allen’s Meadow that not only will allow the Community Garden program to continue there but also will authorize new uses not currently allowed under the existing lease.
The new lease will allow Wilton Parks and Recreation to continue running its popular Community Gardens program at Allen’s Meadow. It will also grant the town permission to build a new turf field there if Wilton determines it’s feasible. Additionally, the town will be able to erect lighting and cover the turf field with a seasonal bubble to allow for extended use all year round.
According to an announcement from Town Hall on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 19, CT-DOT officials have confirmed in writing that the lease agreement will allow those new amenities.
In the summer of 2022, the CT Department of Transportation — which leases the state-owned portion of Allen’s Meadow to Wilton — had informed the town that gardening was not permitted there per the lease with the state. In response, town officials initially said they’d have to search for a new location outside of Allen’s Meadow to relocate the Community Gardens. But ongoing discussions with CT-DOT were eventually fruitful and by August, Wilton received a verbal indication from the state that the Gardens would be able to remain when it was time to extend the lease in November 2023.
Simultaneously, interest had increased in Allen’s Meadow as a “priority location for a third turf field” with lights, something town residents and officials have long sought. An earlier feasibility study had ruled out Comstock Community Center fields as a possible location, but a Parks and Recreation Study Committee had identified Allen’s Meadow as another option. So the Board of Selectmen allocated funding to evaluate the land there as an alternative turf-field spot, with the preference of locating a turf field on the portion owned by the state.
In June, the BOS decided to put the field question — specifically how to pay for it — to voters, recommending that a referendum on bonding it be added to the May 2023 Annual Town Meeting.
“Exciting and Unique Opportunity”
The announcement this week that CT-DOT is amenable to Wilton adding a turf field on state-owned land at Allen’s Meadow makes the turf field idea much more possible now. It was welcome news to First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.
“We think the ability to now add a seasonal bubble is an exciting and unique opportunity for the entire community. The Allen’s Meadow location means any proposed turf field and bubble can be utilized by the entire community, as compared to existing fields and recreational facilities on school properties, which are not accessible during school hours and are prioritized for use by the schools after-hours,” she wrote.
The BOS will discuss the development and consider the CT-DOT’s new lease agreement offer at its meeting this Tuesday, Jan. 24. Vanderslice declined to say whether the town will be able to continue charging fees for town-run programs on state-owned land until the selectmen have a chance to review the lease agreement at the meeting.
But she did say that hopes for other amenities residents have mentioned wanting in addition to a turf field — a seasonal (or permanent) ice rink or dog park, for example — won’t be met in this new lease, which only includes the gardens, a turf field, lighting and the bubble.
The selectmen will also review possible funding sources for the field, which Vanderslice laid out in her announcement:
- Town bonds
- Monies from the town’s Turf Fund, built through fees collected by the town for lighting and usage at Wilton’s two existing turf fields and allocated for future turf field-related expenses
- Contributions from the Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation (WARF), $60,000 of which was received following the Board of Selectmen’s decision in June
- Other private donations made either to WARF or directly to the Town
Vanderslice told GMW the town doesn’t yet have an estimate for what building a turf field at Allen’s Meadow would cost, or what immediate and ongoing expenses for the field and bubble would be. Part of the BOS discussion on Tuesday will cover hiring a consultant to provide a preliminary design and cost estimate.
With many residents interested and often actively discussing amenities, either on social media or elsewhere, Vanderslice did have suggestions for how people can get more involved. She encouraged them “to organize, reach out to volunteers in area communities who have accomplished a similar objective and reach out to me once organized.”
She also recommended connecting with one group that already exists in Wilton to promote and fundraise for amenities.
“I would also encourage those whose priorities [align] with WARF’s to get involved with that organization. WARF began as three residents selling advertising at the [Wilton High School] Stadium and Lilly [Field] as a way of fundraising for sports fields. In 2022, they expanded their function with the consolidation of the youth sports groups under the WARF umbrella, focused on shared goals. It is a model that has been very successful in New Canaan and Darien.
Wilton is also currently undertaking a Master Planning process, which includes an Amenities Master Plan Subcommittee. Part of the process will involve public input. Residents can follow online notices on the town websitse or through continued coverage on GOOD Morning Wilton.
The Tuesday, Jan. 24 meeting will be livestreamed via Zoom, and residents are encouraged to watch and participate during public comment.