The Planning & Zoning Commission convened a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 24. Of three projects under consideration, one received quick and enthusiastic approval, while two others were decisively sent back to the drawing board.
A Green Light for ASML’s New Driveway
The first project of the evening sailed through with little debate. ASML’s package of applications to allow for the construction of a new driveway at its 77 Danbury Rd. U.S. headquarters had already been presented at P&Z on June 27, and this time brought with it favorable reviews from both the Inland Wetlands Commission and the Architectural Review Board. In prior presentations, the applicant team explained that the new driveway path is needed due to employee growth at ASML and the increasingly dangerous interaction of incoming employee vehicles with on-site loading docks in the current route. The new driveway path will follow a shorter but steeper route around the site and required a change to Wilton’s steep slope regulations.
First, regarding the zoning text amendment application, attorney Jim Murphy of Gregory and Adams explained that the team evaluated three different options for the scope of the amendment. The most narrow option, which is the one the applicant and the Commission favored, only affects sites over 20 acres in a DE-10 zone, which effectively means it applies only to ASML’s site.
Next, on the special permit for the project, engineer Joe Canas presented an animated film depiction from the perspective of a car driving along the new route. He also presented graphic cross sections, which the Commission had requested during the prior presentation.
After a perfunctory public hearing period in which no members of the public requested to speak on the project, the Commission voted unanimously to approve both applications.
Chair Rick Tomasetti reiterated earlier comments calling ASML a good citizen of Wilton. “Even for something small like this, we appreciate the level of detail you bring. It shows you’re serious.”
In closing, Murphy signaled that ASML may be back at P&Z in the coming months regarding the company’s $200 million investment and 1,000-person workforce expansion news announced in June.
Logos are a No-Go for Hartford Healthcare Corp’s New Signage
The second application of the evening elicited a decidedly more tepid reaction. On Aug. 4, ARB held a special meeting to expedite four projects headed for P&Z review. One was an alternative signage application for the rear area of the Hartford Healthcare Corporation complex to indicate two new tenants, Advanced Radiology at 60 Danbury Rd. and Soundview Medical at 50 Danbury Rd.
Murphy appeared again to present this application. He began by underscoring that the new signage would only be visible for those visiting the site itself, not from the road or nearby lots. “Tonight’s presentation may be the last time you see these signs unless you become a patient,” he said.
Reactions were mixed at best. Although Tomasetti and Commissioner Ken Hoffman generally seemed open to the proposed signage, other commissioners expressed reservations.
“I hate it,” said Commissioner Chris Pagliaro. “It’s the Bronx—too colorful, too many logos. I don’t care if you don’t see it from the street. It’s branding and I don’t think we need to brand buildings.”
Hoffman responded, “I believe people invest a huge amount of money in leaseholds. Unless it’s obtrusive, I think people should be able to put signs on buildings.”
Pagliaro went on to clarify that he did not oppose the directional signage itself, but specifically the use of company logos rather than a standardized font and color system, which he called “graphic pollution.”
Tomasetti responded, connecting this individual application to a broader challenge facing the town, “Our sign regulations are in dire need of revision. Our existing regulations work for a 5,000 square foot building, but when you get to these bigger complexes with diverse tenancies, it doesn’t make sense. The oversight here is that too often we have to rely on alternative sign programs that are arbitrary.”
He reiterated that his position was closer to Hoffman’s but added, “I have sympathy for what [Pagliaro] is saying.”
Hoffman continued, “I don’t disagree about [the logos] being unnecessary, but I’m not sure what a landlord is supposed to do in the absence of guidance from us.”
At that point, the applicant team opted to continue the hearing and return with an updated proposal for P&Z’s next meeting, a decision the Commission supported.
Town Planner Michael Wrinn agreed to add the project to the Sept. 12 meeting agenda.
A Frosty Reception for 331 Danbury Rd.
The final project on the agenda was met with the harshest reception of the night, though the mood remained surprisingly light. Representing Terwilliger & Bartone Properties, Chris Lynch of Janc Associates prepared to present a proposal for a 126-unit multifamily development at 331 Danbury Rd. However, before he could begin, Tomasetti spoke up.
“I don’t want this to seem disrespectful, but I also don’t want to waste your time,” he said. “Quite frankly, when I see the examples that were submitted in your pre app, they leave a lot to be desired.”
He went on to explain that the property lies on the edge of the Greater Wilton Center area being studied as part of the current master plan process. “Other applicants have come to us looking for text changes that fall outside of our study area, and even then, we’ve said we don’t want to preempt the process for any one applicant. Our community has spent a lot of time talking about architecture, the quality of projects, and what they look like. We’re making real headway on ways to incentivize historic preservation, sustainability, and placemaking. We want to see that you’re creating places that benefit our community. Your examples show that you’re not benefitting our community and you don’t understand our community.”
Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini said of the renderings, “At first, when I looked at this, I thought it was an office building.”
Lynch clarified that the initial diagrams submitted were intended only to show the mass of the building, not the architectural details, but the architectural examples presented alongside the diagram drew criticism as well.
“You have an ‘ugly’ problem,” said Pagliaro, explaining that one rendering in the package of a Tudor-style complex, “made me not want to continue looking.”
The applicant team seemed to take the feedback in stride, with Brendan D’Loren assuring the Commission, “We have absolutely no intention of building a monolithic building you could find anywhere in the country. We understand the bucolic elements that make Fairfield County as special as it is.”
The Commission encouraged them to return with an updated presentation and added that they need not wait until the completion of the master plan later this year, since pre-application hearings like this one are non-binding opportunities for feedback.
Lynch thanked the Commissioners for their time, “I hear you loud and clear. Hopefully when we come back, you’ll find some things you’ll like. And if you don’t, I’m sure I’ll hear it! I think this has been a great start, I really do.”
The next meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission will be held on Monday, Sept. 12. The following meeting has been moved to a Tuesday evening, Sept. 27.
Before closing the meeting, Wrinn noted that the one-year moratorium on cannabis businesses operating in Wilton is approaching its expiration in October. Noting that the state has not made significant progress on the topic since last fall, the Commission agreed to open a public hearing next month on the topic of extending the moratorium for an additional year.
He also noted that the project to redevelop the Wilton Police Station will soon begin its application process, which will include review by ARB as well as the Zoning Review Board, prior to reaching P&Z.