The Monday, Apr. 11 meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission featured a busy agenda of projects, with votes on the future of three local businesses, decisions on Wilton’s response to two pieces of state regulation, and a preview of the latest in a string of large-scale residential project proposed in town.
Vice Chair Melissa Jean Rotini ran the meeting, in the absence of Chair Rick Tomasetti.
The first item of the evening was a special permit application to allow a conversion of an existing retail space at Gateway Plaza into a new Indian restaurant. Representing the applicant, Casey Healy of Gregory & Adams noted that the team had responded to all questions posed by P&Z staff and received approvals from the police and health departments, as well as the fire marshal. The Department of Public Works, too, issued a memo stating no objection to the proposal, after resolving a series of questions about the storage and disposal of cooking oil on the site.
Apart from brief discussions to confirm parking availability at the complex and clarify questions about screening for a dumpster behind the building, the Commission expressed little objection to the application.
Later in the evening, a resolution approving Athithi’s special permit passed unanimously.
Bone & Bark Inn
Next on the agenda was a special permit from the family-owned doggy daycare, boarding, and fostering facility Bone and Bark Inn, which is seeking permission to relocate to and operate out of 15 Cannon Rd. The site, which includes a historic structure, wetlands, and a pond, is the former home of ABC of Wilton.
GOOD Morning Wilton broke the news of its application in February, the third proposal for adaptive reuse for this property. In that conversation with GMW, co-owner Maria Farinas explained that Bone & Bark sees itself as a bed-and-breakfast for dogs.
“We’re firm believers that old-school kennels don’t work for many dogs,” she said in February. “We offer a lot of outdoor space so they’re not in kennels all day. We have pools for them outside and agility and enrichment equipment in the runs.” She also noted that the business has more than doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as so many Wilton residents acquired dogs.
Architect Rick Hoag delivered a brief presentation, in which he called the project “a perfect adaptive reuse,” in which nothing will be done to change the existing structure. Apart from minor interior changes such as the addition of waterproof flooring, the main alteration on the site would be the addition of fencing for four dog pens.
Town Planner Michael Wrinn clarified that although the Architectural Review Board (ARB) saw the fencing proposal and recommended that P&Z approve it, the acoustic screening now shown along the chain-link fencing in the application was added after ARB’s review. The Commission debated whether this change necessitated going back to ARB, but ultimately decided they could move forward without a second review by the advisory committee.
Much of the hearing was spent in a circular conversation about the maximum number of dogs that would be kept at one point, and the maximum number of dogs that would be in the outdoor pens at once. Getting a straight answer proved difficult, however, with the applicants at times citing 40, 45-50, 60-65, and 70 as the total number of dogs that would be allowed on the site at a time, finally settling on an answer of 60. After some additional back and forth, the Commission and applicants pinned down the maximum number of dogs outdoors at once at 36 (10 in each of the three outdoor pens, and as many as six in the puppy training pen.)
During the public hearing, the nearest residential neighbor to the site, Stephen Jones, objected to the proposal, citing noise and environmental concerns. He also called on the Commission to wait on approving this use until the master plan for Cannondale could be completed, a process that has been budgeted for but has not yet begun.
“I read the letters [in support] and I don’t doubt that they’re fantastic business owners — but that’s not a criteria for zoning. Our R-2a regulations say a landscape plan shall be designed as to enhance the appearance of the surrounding structure appropriate to the historical character of the property. Chain links fences with sound barriers is a significant departure from that.”
Barbara Geddis, a local architect and member of the P&Z subcommittee conducting the Wilton Center master plan, spoke as well. “I believe strongly in adaptive reuse and in the master planning process for Cannondale. We already have two dog facilities in Cannondale. I’m not in opposition, but I do think we should reflect on whether a third dog business is best.”
However, most of the public comments, as well as the overwhelming majority of letters submitted to P&Z, were in support of Bone & Bark. Nicholas Schnitzler, a longtime client, called the proposal “a good move for the town,” and a way to support a local business that in turn supports other Wilton residents.
Former P&Z Commissioner David Waters also spoke as a client of Bone & Bark, explaining more about the zoning tools at play in this application. “This is exactly the type of thing that fits within adaptive reuse, he said, citing both Passage East Kennels and the Cat Cottage as examples. “There is already precedent that animal businesses are recognized by the town as appropriate for adaptive reuse.”
In conclusion, Maria Farinas urged the Commission to consider the broader challenges facing small businesses in town. “Wilton has really had issues with having businesses grow in town. If you don’t give local businesses a chance, they have to leave the town.” She added, “We love Wilton. Having our business be in this town and being able to support clients who live in this town is super important to us.”
In the discussion that followed, Commissioner Eric Fanwick expressed disappointment about the level of detail offered in the presentation, citing the Connecticut Humane Society’s successful application to move its headquarters to 863-875 Danbury Rd. “What’s concerning to me is that the Humane Society, which had a much smaller population of dogs, did a much better job of addressing the acoustic issue.”
In the end, Fanwick voted present on the special permit resolution, which passed with the support of the rest of the Commission, with the addition of a 36-dog maximum for the outdoor population.
State Regulations: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) & Parking
As expected, the Commission voted to begin opt-out proceedings on two pieces of state regulations that have been debated throughout this year’s P&Z meetings. In both cases, P&Z cannot act alone; following these votes, the matter will go to the Board of Selectmen for its consideration. If no action is taken by Jan. 1, the state regulations go into effect, overriding Wilton’s local regulations.
As explained in earlier discussions, Wilton’s own regulations, especially on ADUs, are significantly more flexible and progressive than the regulations the state has passed.
During the public hearing, Geddis spoke again, this time urging the Commission to opt-out of the ADU regulations. She even proposed that Wilton offer our regulations to other towns as a model for rethinking their own rules.
Commissioner Florence Johnson and Wrinn continued a discussion started in the previous P&Z meeting about a set of data on Wilton’s existing ADUs that Johnson would like to review. Wrinn explained that the requested information would take a significant amount of time to compile, and the Commissioners elected not to hold up the opt-out process any longer.
Johnson voted present on the resolution to begin opt-out proceedings on ADU regulations, which passed with support of the rest of the Commission. The resolution to begin opt-out proceedings on the parking regulation passed unanimously.
After a quick discussion, the Commission also voted to approve a site development plan for Wilton-based landscape and pool design company Glengate to convert 47 Old Ridgefield Rd. in Wilton Center into a retail location, showroom and office space.
The Commissioners brought up the topic of the outdoor flower display and pollinator garden that the applicant had mentioned, which is not included in the site development plan. Wrinn explained that Glengate will need to come back to P&Z to discuss that element because it would involve changes to the existing driveway.
Greenwich Realty Development
In a final topic of the evening, the Commission heard a brief pre-application presentation for 2.5-story rental apartment complex being proposed for 12 Godfrey Place in Wilton Center. The building would feature one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, with 10% set aside as affordable housing.
The Commissioners complimented the white clapboard design of the building, as well as a clever idea to disguise elevator banks within exterior stone chimneys. However, they expressed concern about how the project would fit in with the goals being laid out in the Wilton Center master planning process, particularly the need to activate a more vibrant street life.
“In our initial meetings for the master plan, we’ve been talking about how to unlock the village beyond the main road,” Pagliaro said. “This intersection [Godfrey Rd. and Hubbard Rd.] plays into that quite a bit to be honest. My hesitation is while the project offers some things that are very attractive for Wilton and very needed, it’s turning its back on the idea of a public component to the site.”
In a follow up comment, Johnson suggested that the applicant consider some sort of arts activation on the ground level.
The Commission is waiting on news from the State later this month about the future of remote meetings. Several Commissioners expressed a preference for continuing to allow zoom participation in town meetings, with Wrinn confirming that maintaining some sort of remote component to town meetings is “the hope.”
The next meeting of the P&Z Subcommittee on the Wilton Center Master Plan is scheduled for Thursday, Apr. 21. The next regular meeting of P&Z is coming up on Monday, Apr. 25.