As town officials, residents and merchants continue to discuss the identified need for more diverse housing in Wilton, one project — the proposed Wilton Lofts at 12 Godfrey Place in Wilton Center — is bringing the current housing debate in Wilton to a head.
When the applicant and the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) found themselves in a standoff in December 2022 — largely over the Commission’s desire to wait for the completion of the Wilton Center Master Plan — the applicant withdrew its application and re-submitted it as an 8-30g application.
The current project being considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) would raze the office building currently located on the 0.62-acre site, and replace it with a five-story, 42-unit apartment building — including 13 affordable units:
- A mix of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units ranging in size from 829 to 2,330 square feet
- one parking spot per unit (eight across the street on Hubbard Rd.)
- 30% affordable, including 15% (7 units) for occupants with incomes up to 60% median income and another 15% (6 units) up to 80% median income
Following more than two hours of discussions and a public hearing that opened on Monday, May 8, P&Z picked up the discussion at its Monday, May 22 meeting (video recordings of both meetings may be found on the Town website). Much of the conversation — either from commissioner questions or public comments — centered around parking and traffic circulation on the narrow corner where the building would be located. And while the public hearing was left open to resume on Monday, June 12, those concerns may not be enough to halt the project’s progression to approval.
The Applicant’s Move to 8-30g
Connecticut’s affordable housing statute, 8-30g, effectively frees developers to bypass local zoning regulations.
Wilton’s Town counsel Peter Gelderman reminded commissioners that 8-30g was, as he called it, “an appeal statute” and a “burden-shifting statute” that puts the onus on the Commission to provide “substantial evidence” that a decision to deny an application for affordable housing is based on a significant public interest (usually reasons of health) or a public safety issue, and not due to any zoning regulations.
P&Z would be responsible for demonstrating that the public interest or safety concern that is the basis for a denial outweighs the need for affordable housing, and furthermore, must agree to any reasonable changes that the applicant could make to address the concerns.
Gelderman also noted that traffic congestion is not sufficient reason to deny an 8-30g application — only traffic safety.
Public Hearing Opened — May 8
P&Z opened a public hearing on the proposed project on Monday, May 8.
Elizabeth Suchy, attorney for the applicant and a longtime Wilton resident, highlighted the site’s proximity to the Wilton train station and a bus line. She appealed to P&Z to approve the project not only because it meets 8-30g requirements but because it aligns with Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) goals and the expected direction of the forthcoming Wilton Center Master Plan.
“The proposal addresses many of the POCD goals of providing new and diversified housing options… to accommodate all life stages including workforce, families with children, single persons, empty nesters, and others. It provides desired and versatile living, working, shopping, and entertainment opportunities…. all geared to create a vibrant and socioeconomically diverse community necessary to support businesses in Wilton Center. [It] activates the streets [and] populates the downtown during the day and evening,” Suchy said.
She noted that any evidence presented to deny the application would have to be “significant” and “quantifiable,” and not just “theoretical” or “speculative.”
Lengthy discussions with various professionals from the applicant’s team covered topics including:
- Drainage, site planning, and architectural design
- Lighting and landscaping
- Parking and bike storage
- Traffic, entry, and exit
- Deliveries, garbage pickup, and moving
Suchy indicated that the applicant had responded to all questions from various Town departments, but some questions about fire safety and firefighting remained outstanding. Those questions were sent to Wilton’s fire chief for comment.
Commissioners extensively focused their questions on parking concerns. While Wilton’s current zoning regulations would require 71 spots for this building, only one spot per unit will be required under 8-30g. Thirty-four of them will be in the building’s ground-level garage, while eight others would be located cross the street.
Wilton police requested the applicant add a crosswalk for residents to access some parking spaces located at 23 Hubbard St. across from the proposed development, a request Suchy called “reasonable and appropriate.”
But Commissioners still had other concerns about parking, including the lack of visitor parking and no area for loading trucks, garbage and moving trucks, and mail delivery. Commission Chair Rick Tomasetti asked the applicants to figure out a way to add some sort of loading zone.
Drilling Down to Safety Concerns — May 22
With the public hearing continued to the next meeting on Monday, May 22, the discussion again focused on parking and loading. Suchy led off by telling the commission that her client had taken the May 8 feedback and made “various revisions and modifications to the plans which incorporate some of your comments and concerns, and those related generally to loading, parking, configuration…” as well as others adjustments to storage of electric bicycles, transformer location and a fire connection.
Given the limited parameters of 8-30g, commissioners kept almost all of their questions related to safety concerns.
One very noticable change in the plan was the addition of a loading/parking space in the front of the building, adjacent to the garage entrance.
Commissioner Ken Hoffman questioned the dimension of the space at 20 feet long, noting that “the typical Amazon van is longer than that; a typical box truck ranges from 20 to 24 feet with extendability for a ramp,” and noted that a large vehicle parked there would likely extend into the driveway. He seemed unsatisfied with the answers provided by the client’s traffic consultant as well.
Hoffman later added his clarification that he was “also concerned about the safety of pedestrians on the sidewalk; I’m concerned about the blockage of the view in and out of the driveway, and people going around that and therefore possibly endangering people on the street and on the sidewalk.”
Commissioner Matthew Murphy echoed Hoffman’s concerns about the loading spot’s dimensions, specifically how it would accommodate moving trucks “because those trucks are a lot larger than most Amazon trucks and they’re going to be there for quite a length of time moving people in and out.”
Suchy responded that moving trucks likely would be present infrequently at the building; project principal and architect Rich Granoff estimated one moving truck every two weeks or less because in other similar apartment buildings he is involved with, “most of our tenants stay for more than one year, typically two or three or even longer.”
Tomasetti ticked off his criticisms of the loading area in a rapid fashion. “Based on our peer review, it sounds like, regardless of the duration of use, it doesn’t look to me like your loading zone is in a good location, I don’t think it’s long enough, I think it’s too close to the street, I think it blocks the view, …” and he also took issue with the crosswalk and the lack of specifics regarding the parking spots located on the property across the street at 23 Hubbard Rd.
The application received comments from a handful of residents.
Farah Masani identified herself as a neighbor who lives directly across the road from the proposed apartments. She said it was more likely that there would be a high number of deliveries daily to the building and she felt the space in front was too small given the likelihood of pedestrians and vehicles entering and exiting — all presenting a threat to safety.
“That’s a huge, huge concern to me,” Masani said.
She called Hubbard Rd. “a very, very high traffic area,” with entrances to the Post Office and Wilton Library, and said vehicles would likely park on the street, creating a traffic concern. She also questioned the ability for multiple emergency vehicles to access the building in an emergency situation because there is inadequate space.
Masani had a pointed criticism regarding the lack of a visitor parking, specifically a visitor’s handicapped space. “Not having a handicapped spot for a visitor coming to your tenants is just inhumane. I’m not really sure that’s the right thing to do because you don’t have enough space for parking in your building. That’s not really neighborly.”
The next resident to speak was Barbara Geddis, who was concerned about a building of such high density — 42 units on .62 acre, or 67.74 units per acre — shoehorned into an insufficient location.
“The intensity of this little corner of two rather narrow right of way streets at 42 units is really exceeding our ability to fight fire and to treat safely.
Resident Bill Lalor said he had a unique perspective on the proposal: he works across the street at 23 Hubbard Rd., and his family is host to one of the A Better Chance of Wilton (ABC) scholars who live immediately next door to the building on Godfrey Pl.
While he said he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the ABC program, he did identify some concerns about the project in relation to the students living at the ABC house and asked the board and the applicant to “recognize the special place that the ABC program” has in the community and “look out and keep in mind the ABC girls’ interests.”
“Any demolition activities obviously has the prospect for a lot of noise, a lot of nuisance, and, to the extent possible, I’d ask everybody to try to account for these factors,” Lalor said.
Suchy’s rebuttal countered those collective concerns, and she made sure to emphasize where she felt concerns did not rise to the level needed to deny the application under 8-30g.
She said that the traffic consultants had determined there was no impact or change in traffic on the roads at 12 Godfrey, and thus created no safety issue. Nor did they determine parking was a safety issue or a substantial public interest or concern.
“Parking concerns may be inconvenient to tenants, but unless they rise to a level of public interest that is substantial, they’re not conditions that you should give any credence to. There have to be a quantifiable probability of specific harm, and … not a speculative or theoretical harm that may be caused by someone who thinks that perhaps there may be an issue,” Suchy said.
She also reminded the P&Z commissioners that, under 8-30g, if they denied the application, their conduct would have to meet a “four-part test” for any court to consider they acted appropriately. She asserted that the applicant had provided enough evidence to satisfy those four areas the commission had to consider.
Suchy and Granoff assured the commission that any needs that arose for handicapped parking spots would be appropriately handled, and they said they wanted to be “good neighbors” in consideration of any concerns about the ABC House. In fact, anticipating the application is approved, Suchy said her client would like to move quickly and likely would begin during the summer when the ABC students are not in residence.
Suchy also said the application met the town’s current regulation requirements for a site plan approval, requiring the proposal to conform to the town’s POCD. It did, she argued, in several ways by:
- providing diversity in the town’s housing stock and housing options
- meeting requirements for “arrangements of the buildings and structures and uses on the site
- making provisions for safe pedestrian movement with and adjacent to the site
- meeting requirements for storm drainage design
- meeting requirements for outdoor lighting for pedestrian and motorist safety
- having limited signage well within permissible thresholds
- creating and improving landscaping
Suchy summarized her argument:
“We believe it is something that Wilton desperately needs to address its affordable housing need. And we submit to you that nothing has been raised by anyone supported by documentary or other evidence that gives rise to a public interest that outweighs the benefit for affordable housing. We ask that you approve this application so that we can move forward. And I think, in the end, you’ll be very pleased with it, and the concerns raised will be adequately addressed…,” she said.
With the commission waiting for some additional information from the fire department as well as for a DPW review of new materials, the commission continued the application, leaving the public hearing open until the next meeting on June 12.
[Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that a statement attributed to attorney Suchy regarding the impact of traffic related to the building left out the word “no,” changing the meaning of what she actually said – that “there is no impact from traffic.”]
“Play stupid games, win stupid prizes,” as they say; the developer literally told them they were going to do this exact thing if P&Z kept delaying their application for no good reason. Hopefully they’ll be less intransigent next time around; this version of the plan is maybe a bit bigger than one would like in that spot, but we would have had much more say about that had P&Z simply done their jobs and not insisted on holding up all approvals until whatever indefinite future date they finished their Master Plan.
(perhaps P&Z is another board that needs some new blood in November – 5 of 9 seats are up for election, including the chair and vice-chair)
I apologize for chiming in late on this, but has the town had traffic consultants look at the impact of rush hour with two apartment complexes being added town town center? The options to access the highways would be Route 7 (which is already completely backed up getting to the highway in the AM), Range Rd. (which is windy and not the chosen route for most) and Wolfpit to Belden Hill which already has a huge morning line heading to the 106/Belden Hill stop sign on Belden Hill as well as in front of Miller Driscoll…
Unfortunately, our town center is not well situated for highway commuter access so the traffic congestion issue does become a traffic safety issue when you add that many more cars into the mix during the heaviest traveled times.
I’ve been saying for years that we ought to have a traffic light at 106 and Belden; I know the neighbors hate the idea, but I daresay they’re not that happy about the lines of stopped cars belching exhaust in front of their houses all morning either. Perhaps whatever project lands in the old Notre Dame site will help finally spur on some improvements there.
That being said, Wilton Center is now walking distance from the train station and a lot of people might choose to commute that way; we’ve also got the new WilWalk section of the NRVT to look forward to for bike commuters. So hopefully between alternate transportation modes and improvements to our local traffic patterns the additional cars will be manageable.
We have had many years to plan for and satisfy the requirements and objectives of 8-30g. By not doing so, we are not in a good position to negotiate, and will deal with this debate with every development. Points made by citizens and board members are valid, but likely moot unless the developer chooses to consider them. Change and development has largely been resisted by Wilton. How is 183 Ridgefield Road benefiting the community? Also, some major changes we did accept did not work out so well (S&S plaza?). Now we will pay the piper unless developers and citizens can work together to make positive changes under 8-30g. We can retain the character and benefits of Wilton and improve and move forward…if we are willing. I’m optimistic…cautiously.
This is exhibit A in how 8-30g has taken all the power away from the town’s ability to regulate and promote smart and attractive new developments. Now we get ugly buildings with lots of traffic and are at the mercy of developers. And the state legislature has numerous other new bills coming, which will further erode our town’s ability to have any control over how we develop.
This is a sham when it comes to “diversity”. It’s all about the money and property value. The number of affordable units is way too few. I am not familiar with the statute, but if Wilton is going to run the antique quality of this location and subject the entire town to traffic and other pressures, there should be more “affordable” units for the “buck.”
The intent is good. The size is inconceivable. The architecture very good. The location is not good for this size and the potential amount of residents. Whether it be less stories or less square footage, I believe it presently provides for too many inhabitants and vehicles. However it ends up, going forward, this project must receive constant, concise monitoring of vehicles.
Hopefully P&Z will use this as a learning experience and not make this mistake again with an even larger and more consequential plan…Kimco.
8-30G is becoming shove it down your throat. That area is to small for over 40 units. People will start parking at the Post Office. There is simply not enough room for this many units. Its too bad the development of this town has taken the turn that it has become. There is no foresight for low income housing.
It’s pretty easy to keep people from parking in retail lots overnight; you just put up ‘no overnight parking’ signs and tow them. None of the neighboring property owners have any particular incentive to let people park in their lots for free to make up for a developer not putting in enough spaces.
Indeed, the lack of guaranteed parking for 2 cars will probably discourage couples/families that need that many from renting there; they’ll pick somewhere else with more parking. (I assume the developer factored that in and concluded that whatever harm that does to the rent they can charge is offset by the extra units)
Must require adequate parking garage space of a lest 2 per unit in this climate and the proposed unit sizes. One parking space per unit is completely unacceptable.The assumption that proximity to town and train compensates is totally unrealistic.
It is unfortunate that P&Z could not work collaboratively with the developer in the past and that now the town has very little say in what happens moving forward. This is exactly what 8-30g was designed to do when towns drag their feet and don’t proactively take steps to increase the quantity of affordable housing. I do hope the developer takes into consideration some the parking concerns and the depth of the loading dock. Towns can absolutely be strategic in where and how to increase higher density and affordable housing, and I look forward to a vibrant and well-planned Wilton center which does those things (while also increasing the grand list) and maintains many of the protected open spaces around town.
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