At the final meeting of the Wilton Planning & Zoning Commission ahead of Wednesday’s electoral turnover, the commissioners greenlit two major development projects long under consideration: 141 Danbury Rd. and the Connecticut Humane Society’s new headquarters at 863-875 Danbury Rd.
With the public comment period closed and resolutions prepared in advance of the meeting, discussion for both projects was straightforward and brief. Chair Rick Tomasetti opened the meeting by noting that although Commission resolutions as drafted by P&Z staff are not available online prior to being voted on, they will be posted on the Commission website once approved.
141 Danbury Road
Regarding the 173-unit multi-family complex proposed for the former site of the Melissa and Doug corporate office, the commissioners acted on the project’s three connected applications in order:
- Regulation text change to create new overlay zone district, “Designed Enterprise Residential District (Overlay)”
- Zone change for the property
- Site plan and special permit
In his remarks about the regulation text change, Town Planner Michael Wrinn noted a few minor errors that would be corrected, including the removal of what he called “a rogue section” that was inadvertently included. Commissioner Florence Johnson kicked off a brief debate about industry language, posing the question, “How can a property be underperforming? What does that actually mean?”
Wrinn offered as a standard definition that a property for which “a higher and better use” can be found would be considered underperforming.
Commissioner Melissa-Jean Rotini noted that several formatting corrections she had submitted previously had not been incorporated, but that in the interest of time, she would focus her comments only on corrections that affect the meaning or legality of the regulation.
“I know that we’re hesitant to make changes to proposed text, but for what it’s worth, I don’t think we should be putting out resolutions with grammatical errors.”
On the topic of the special permit, in addition to minor corrections, Tomasetti proposed one substantive change: the removal of a provision to require skirting on the façade, a suggestion he had asked the applicant to explore in the Oct. 25 meeting of P&Z.
“It’s going to look strange to have what are essentially louvers hanging down. I understand now why they didn’t put them in originally,” he said. “I wish the building had a better arrangement to the ground level in the back, but it’s not something most people will care about or see.”
The commissioners agreed to strike the skirting requirement from the final resolution.
One by one, the Commission moved to pass each resolution related to 141 Danbury Rd., each one passing with a unanimous vote in favor by the Commission.
Connecticut Humane Society
Later in the evening, the Commission took up two applications related to the new headquarters of the Connecticut Humane Society proposed for 863-875 Danbury Rd.
After noting two minor grammatical corrections, the Commission voted first on the request to amend the regulation that allows for a charitable organization, like the Humane Society, to operate on residentially zoned properties. The change would allow a larger building on the site, in light of the significant size of the lot in question.
Finally, the Commission took up the matter of the special permit for the project. Wrinn called the Commission’s attention to one substantive change made since the prior meeting, which is the inclusion of a safety lighting requirement on the site, as suggested by Johnson during the Oct. 22 meeting.
The Commission again voted unanimously to pass the resolutions and approve the project. The Humane Society quickly released a statement:
“This is a big night for pets and people of Connecticut! We are thrilled that the application for CHS’ new animal resource center in Wilton has been approved, and very thankful to the town of Wilton. We are also so grateful for the supporters who believe in creating this new safe haven for pets in need and are with us every step of the way,” Connecticut Humane Society Executive Director James Bias said. “This is a moment to celebrate, but of course, there is a lot more work to be done to bring this project to reality. We are excited to get started on the next steps.”
Additional Business and Next Steps
In addition to these larger projects, the Commission voted to approve a special permit and waiver for two more properties along Danbury Rd.: the Cannondale Animal Clinic, which sought to build an addition at 481 Danbury Rd.; and Wilson Properties, which needed parking regulations relief at 37 Danbury Rd. to allow one of its tenants to expand operations.
A third project, proposed outdoor signage at 249 Danbury Rd., was tabled due to the applicant failing to show.
Before adjourning, the commissioners paid tribute to Doris Knapp and Peter Shiue, both stepping down after long tenures on P&Z.
Tomasetti noted that both Shiue and Knapp were sitting commissioners when the rest of the commissioners began their service.
“Without people like you putting in the time—and it has been a lot of time over a lot of years—we couldn’t make this happen. I will miss working with you.”
Rotini lamented that with Knapp stepping down, she would be the only attorney on P&Z, although Commissioner Jill Warren is currently in law school. Tomasetti added that without Shiue, the Commission will be without a realtor as well.
The incoming commissioners, Ken Hoffman and Chris Wilson, both elected to P&Z on Nov. 3, will begin their terms on Dec. 1. The next regular meeting of P&Z will be held on Dec. 13, with the planned “quad-board” meeting of Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, Board of Education, and P&Z scheduled for Dec. 8.
One of the last undeveloped places on Route 7 rezoned for a new institutional headquarters, the Connecticut Humane Society, while plenty of commercial property sits empty not too far away. I may have missed something here on why this makes sense.
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