Final rendering of proposed LDS Meeting House at 241 Danbury Rd.

Monday’s October 24 meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission opened with the Commission’s decision on a controversial sewer extension project in Cannondale, but that was just one of several items on a heavy agenda facing the Commissioners that evening.

By the end of the night, two special permits and one regulation change had been approved. A fourth application was continued, however, after finding itself caught in uncertain territory between the role of P&Z and its advisory group, the Architectural Review Board (ARB).

Confusing (sometimes Contradictory) Feedback on the Proposed LDS Meeting House  

Architects Robin Benning and Rob Burgheimer presented to P&Z on a proposal by their client, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to construct an LDS meeting house at 241 Danbury Rd., across the street from Town Hall. The pair had previously presented to the ARB at three meetings between June and August of this year, with the project undergoing significant updates in response to the board’s feedback.

The final meeting on August 4 concluded with Burgheimer thanking the ARB for their time and insight throughout the process. “Honestly,” he said, “This is a much better project today than where we started.”

He and Benning would later state at Monday’s P&Z meeting that in light of these prior discussions, they believed this new discussion would center around the site plan for the project. Instead, P&Z had design feedback of its own to deliver.

Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini, filling in for Chair Rick Tomasetti who had to recuse himself from this application, began the discussion by asking about a set of windows in the steeple of the building that appeared to be bricked over in the rendering. Benning and Burgheimer explained that this section of an LDS meeting house does not traditionally have windows but that those cutouts in the steeple, which in fact function as vents, were added at the suggestion of the ARB “to enliven the elevations of the building.”

Commissioner Chris Pagliaro shared Rotini’s concern about the appearance of those non-windows, but he was also concerned about the scale and design of the windows throughout the building.

“I would like to see an exterior muntin that is not a square, flat bar and that adds a proper colonial profile to this thing,” he said, expressing frustration that the specific windows had not been selected as part of the prior ARB process.

Pagliaro also inquired about a materials sheet and why it was not included in the presentation. A sample board of materials had been submitted to ARB during the summer and reviewed by the members but seemed not to be included, at least initially, in the P&Z package. However, as of Wednesday, Oct. 26 the sample board had been added to the materials on the town website.

“Bear with me,” Burgheimer said, seeming bewildered. “We spent a lot of time with the ARB getting to this point. This was something we thought we had thoroughly vetted, but some of the things you’re talking about are the same things that were talked about, presented, and dismissed already. We’re kind of going full circle.”

Rotini intervened, apologizing for the confusion. “We did put the ARB in place with the best of intentions to try to narrow these conversations when they get to us, but we’re always trying to push for better.”

Pagliaro added that he didn’t think projects should come out of ARB before key materials such as windows had been selected.

In a final exchange, Commissioner Florence Johnson asked for more information about native plants and impervious surfaces that could be incorporated into the plan, which the applicants agreed to explore.

Town Planner Michael Wrinn suggested continuing the meeting house presentation until P&Z’s next scheduled meeting on Monday, November 14. “It does not make sense to open this hearing up to the public until they’ve made their final presentation,” he said, noting that staff was still waiting for materials related to drainage, utility lines, and surveys, in addition to the series of topics introduced by the Commissioners.

Three Applications Win Approval

The meeting also included votes on three pending applications, two of which had previously been presented to P&Z. The third—a regulation change requested by ASML—was presented to the Commission for the first time.

It seems Wilton’s biggest corporate resident recently discovered it may have been operating in violation of town rules for quite some time. ASML applied for an amendment to the zoning regulations to remove a long-standing but little-noticed prohibition on shift workers within Wilton’s Design Enterprise District, where the company’s facility sits. Fifteen percent of its workforce operates during the night, which the company feared could be categorized as shift work.

Although the matter that has never been challenged by the town or any neighbors, the applicant’s attorney Jim Murphy called the regulation “a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.”

He began by offering some history on the prohibition, which he said was originally put in place in 1956 in Wilton’s Design Research District to discourage factory manufacturing in Wilton Center. In 1972, he explained, the Design Research District and Design Enterprise District were merged and the prohibition on shift workers came to apply to both categories of site.

Murphy explained that the manufacturing done at the ASML site differs in its nature from the kind of manufacturing that was the initial target of the prohibition. The facility manufactures the lenses used in the creation of microchips, a process achieved through a delicate, three-month process. The chips themselves are made elsewhere, but the machines responsible for the lenses must be monitored 24/7 by ASML employees, 15% of whom work overnight in order to make this possible.

Believing that the regulation did not intend to restrict uses like this on a property like ASML’s, the company has applied to have the language struck from the zoning ordinance.

Commissioner Eric Fanwick called Murphy’s argument ‘a little disingenuous.’ “If you didn’t think it applied to you, then you wouldn’t be here before us,” he said. He asked whether ASML would be open to a strict noise requirement on the site if this prohibition on shift workers were removed.

“Respectfully,” Murphy responded. “This is already in place. Noise guidelines restrict sound at the property line to 80 decibels during the day and 55 at night.” He noted that the only complaint about noise received was due to construction, not the operation of overnight workers, which seemed to satisfy the concern.

During the public comment period, Wilton resident and architect Barbara Geddis expressed support for the amendment: “I say less is more when it comes to regs. We love ASML and the workday is changing worldwide. Language like this on shift work is arcane.” However, she noted that when Wilton’s regulations are updated more broadly, she would like to see protections for overnight light pollution addressed.

Later in the evening, the Commission would vote unanimously to grant ASML’s request.

P&Z also voted to approve two projects that concluded lengthy reviews at the prior meeting of the Commission. Create Learning Center received unanimous approval to expand its operations to serve an additional 26 children. And Hartford Healthcare Corp’s contentious signage application finally came to an end, with five Commissioners voting to approve, including Pagliaro who had expressed the deepest reservations about the plan. In the end, only Rotini voted against the application, with Johnson abstaining due to having missed the most recent meeting.

Looking Ahead

The next meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled for Monday, November 14. Before the meeting concluded, Wrinn updated the commissioners that a new application for the Painted Cookie’s expanded location could be on the agenda as soon as this next meeting. He added that the proposal for a new 32-unit multifamily residential building at 12 Godfrey Place will head to the Architectural Review Board next month before coming to P&Z.