10:30 A.M.–The Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing that had been scheduled for tonight regarding the Wilton Heights special permit application has been postponed. The applicant has asked for a continuation because, according to the developer Paxton Kinol, the project’s architect requires additional time to amend drawings for the Village District Design Advisory Committee and Inland Wetlands Commission meetings scheduled for December.

ORIGINAL STORY:  The agenda for tonight’s Planning and  Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting lists another public hearing scheduled on the Wilton Heights application for 300 Danbury Rd.. Wilton Heights LLC has applied for a special permit to allow a mixed-use development project that contains both commercial retail space and residential units. The applicant appeared at the last P&Z meeting on Nov. 13 for a public hearing on the proposal–the third P&Z application filed for the project so far.

During the Nov. 13 hearing, plans were discussed for the project, which will include 24,000 sq. ft. of retail space, 74 residential units, and parking–both in exterior parking spaces and what the developer’s attorney Casey Healy called “substantial underground parking.” Renderings depict two buildings designed to look like a New England village with different style facades, and an open air pavilion, which the applicant explained was added in between the two proposed buildings at the request of Wilton’s Village District Design Advisory Committee.

Among some of the notable items discussed were:

  • All existing structures on the site presently will be removed. There have been environmental site assessments done that have reveled some contaminated soils and potential hazardous waste, as well as oil tanks above and below ground and lead paint and arsenic. Concerned about groundwater and proximity to the Norwalk River, there will be remediation work completed before any demolition or construction is done on the site.
  • Redevelopment of the property also involves the jurisdiction of Wilton’s Inland Wetlands Commission, which is currently considering its own Wilton Heights application. According to Healy, at the Nov. 8 Inland Wetlands meeting an agreement was reached between the Commission and the applicant about what changes to the footprint would be required–redesigning and moving the building’s footprint approximately 10-15 feet further from wetlands–to be acceptable to the Commission. Healy said that the Commission instructed Wilton’s environmental director Mike Conklin to draft an approval resolution to be considered at the next Inland Wetlands meeting on Dec. 13.
  • Rock blasting would be required for the plans as currently proposed, and the applicant would follow and exceed any protection and survey requirements by the state due to concerns raised by neighbors in the nearby Crowne Pond neighborhood about a retaining wall.
  • Plans have been revised to accommodate a request by Wilton Police that any “unsignalized” driveway exits from the site onto Danbury Rd. be made  “right turn only.”
  • The developer has met with the Village District Design Committee and tried to incorporate feedback into the design, including making street-facing windows smaller and modifying the molding and trim transitions between the retail and residential portions of the structures. It has been designed to look like a “series of buildings to appear like it has grown over time, with groupings of village-like buildings” in federal- and shingle-style and mill style. The open timber-frame pavilion building was designed to reference New England architecture and be a place where people can gather.
  • Project engineer Craig Flaherty told the P&Z commissioners that the project includes triple the amount of required green space, and that the application includes a conservation easement that will be permanently deeded into the property, in order to provide a buffer to residences located above and behind the proposed development.
  • Flaherty also reviewed the number of parking spaces and explained that the developer was applying for a parking reduction request–asking to waive 30% of the required spots. He said that the parking that is planned–including 48 spaces under just one of the buildings as well as exterior spaces around the commercial spaces–is “more than adequate.”
  • Design elements have been incorporated to stormwater runoff, including the addition of green roof spaces with soil and live plants, as well as rain gardens and filtration systems. Flaherty said that the amount of ground cover from exposed parking and driveways will be reduced with the current plan:  “It’s greater today than it will be tomorrow.”
  • The residences will all be two-bedroom apartments with large kitchens and high end construction. Some will have lofts and cathedral ceilings and private terraces on the roofs. 
  • The goal was to create a “vibrant, mixed use complex that is pedestrian-friendly,” with traditional storefronts, a varied roofscape, gables, dormers and chimneys, all to “contribute to the visual interest, with a range of colors and textures.”
  • The developer will apply to the CT-Department of Transportation to create off-site improvements on Danbury Rd. and the surrounding area. These will include sidewalks, landscaping and raised islands to beautify the roadways as well as make pedestrian crossings safer. Wilton Heights LLC will apply for the ability to create off-site improvements for a longer section of Rte. 7–from the train station to Orem’s Diner–but will agree to perform the improvements near the development intersection at Ridgefield Rd., plus the nearby sidewalks, and sidewalks down to the train station.

[tribulant_slideshow gallery_id=”32″]

Public Comment–Historical District Commission Concern

During the meeting, Allison Sanders, chair of Wilton’s Historic District and Historic Property Commission, expressed her concerns about the project.

Sanders spoke about “the loss of historic structures and the radical reshaping of the landscape,” and “over-scale height and massing,” calling aspects of the design “troubling.”

“The developer has paid lip service to vernacular design with a pastiche of historical architectural details, but these have been overlaid on structures which will loom over the neighborhood with their blocky height and width,” Sanders said.

She also said planned demolition of several structures on the site–two of them historic–was “unnecessary” and an “irrevocable loss.”

“We have lost so many of our old buildings on Danbury Road… part of Wilton’s character, and once they’re gone, they’re gone — you can’t get them back.”

She suggested that the Betts-Comstock house, built there in 1791, could be repurposed or relocated, and that the historic corn crib–an iconic structure on the site–should be saved as well, noting that adaptive use could be applied here.

“The preservation of character, landscape and historic structures is of the utmost urgency,” said Sanders. “They make Wilton visually unique, and help define us as a community. These will be lost with the proposed design for Wilton Heights.”

While Sanders said there should be dialogue between her commission and the developer, there seems to have been some miscommunication between developer Paxton Kinol and Sanders–perhaps due to Sanders’ double duty as co-director of the Wilton Historical Society. Kinol said he reached out several times via the Historical Society but did not hear back. First selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice (who was observing the meeting in the section reserved for members of the public) suggested that the parties should look toward moving forward and connect, now that both were in the same room and able to arrange a time to have that dialogue.