At Monday night’s March 14 meeting, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted to approve the relocation of the Farmers’ Market from the Wilton Historical Society on Rte. 7/Danbury Rd. to the Wilton Center Town Green. The commissioners agreed that the simple change in location could have a much bigger impact on life in Wilton.
The P&Z members also discussed topics that could signify more monumental changes for Wilton’s future — in the areas of affordable housing and housing density (including proposed legislation being discussed in Hartford), extending the town sewer line into Cannondale Village, and allowing outdoor dining to continue.
Commissioners weighed in on those subjects as they heard updates on a series of bills under consideration by state legislators that could have wide-ranging impacts on land use and planning issues.
The meeting opened with a lengthy discussion and presentation on an application, officially an 8-24 referral, to extend the town sewer line to the property at 19 Cannon Rd. The ultimate project planned for the site, the merits of which were not the subject of discussion this week, is a 70-unit multi-family development that is expected to make use of the 8-30g affordable housing statute. This matter will be covered in a dedicated story in GOOD Morning Wilton later this week.
As covered by GMW earlier this month, the Wilton Chamber of Commerce has submitted a site development plan to allow the Farmers’ Market to operate on the town green in Wilton Center, rather than at its current location at the Wilton Historical Society. The market will operate on Wednesdays between noon and 5:00 PM, from June 1 to October 26, 2022.
Camille Carriero, Executive Director of the Chamber, presented to the Commission, with Susan Goldman (President) and Carol Johnson (Vice President Events & Programs) also present.
Carriero began by outlining the parking agreements in place. In coordination with nearby town businesses, the Chamber has secured access to 70 parking spaces for Farmers’ Market customers and vendors spread across parking lots at 101 Old Ridgefield Rd., the Barringer Building at 80 Old Ridgefield Road, the Piersall Building at 44 Old Ridgefield Rd., and Fairfield County Bank.
One site that will not be available for parking is Village Market, which has requested and will receive signage at both entrances indicating that no farmers’ market parking is available.
Commission Chair Rick Tomasetti greeted the application warmly and asked if there was any room to discuss extending the Farmers’ Market to weekend operations in addition to Wednesday hours. Carriero explained that the Chamber is certainly open to the idea but that most of the vendors have their weeks booked already, at least for this year. She noted that it might be possible to pursue a “Fall Market” concept that would pick up after the end of the regular season.
Commission Vice Chair Rotini suggested a holiday market be considered as well.
Commissioner Chris Pagliaro said, “I like this — I like that it’s going to generate a buzz and bring foot traffic into the village.” He asked about the terms of the agreement, which Carriero explained operate as a one-year lease with Paragon Management Group, which owns the town green. Tomasetti clarified that by approving the site development plan, the Commission will be granting this use during the time indicated (Wednesdays from noon to 5:00 PM from June to October.)
Later that evening, after a brief deliberation, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the site development plan. The Wilton Farmers’ Market will open in its new location on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.
Update on Pending Legislation
Wrinn delivered updates on a series of state legislative bills that could affect Wilton, beginning with two pandemic-inspired regulations that are nearing their expiration date.
Regarding HB 5271 and 5269 – which would extend current outdoor dining regulations and the ability of town commissions like P&Z to hold meetings remotely – Wrinn noted that they are currently under consideration by the state legislature and that he hoped they would be voted on quickly.
Pagliaro asked whether P&Z itself has the right to extend outdoor dining if the legislature fails to act before the previous order expires on March 31. “Our restaurateurs need time to plan,” he said. “We can’t necessarily wait for the government to act.”
Tomasetti replied, “You are the government,” to which Pagliaro answered, “Yeah, but I want to act.”
Wrinn reminded the Commission that their next meeting will include a public hearing on the topic of outdoor dining and whether to extend the current, more relaxed rules.
Rotini added, on the subject of remote commission meetings, “I hope the remote meetings continue. We’ve already said we’re not making any decisions tonight and we still have 12 attendees with us right now. Being on zoom provides so much access for people.”
Regarding HB 5429, a zoning reform bill backed by Desegregate CT that would allow 15 units per acre to be built on lots that lie within half a mile of a railroad station or bus depot, Wrinn noted that future of the legislation and its potential impact on Wilton will become more clear in the coming weeks.
On Monday, March 14 First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice submitted testimony to the state legislature opposing bill, saying in part, “There is no evidence that the State is willing or able to make the required investments to the Metro-North Danbury line or state-owned roads to create the infrastructure to support this bill. As such, in Wilton, this bill is pro-developer, anti-resident.”
Tomasetti shared that this topic has come up in discussion with the Chairs of Planning & Zoning Commissions of nearby towns, but that leadership transitions underway in Darien, New Canaan, and Ridgefield may have shifted the conversation.
“We had a few individuals who were aligned with what we’ve been saying,” he explained. “But certain people who were likeminded are no longer in those positions.”
The next meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission will be held on Monday, March 28. Two projects already introduced will be heard more fully: the Connecticut Humane Society’s signage and lighting plan and the plans to convert the Bankwell property in Wilton Center into a showroom for Glengate, a Wilton-based landscape and pool design company. Two new applications will also appear on the agenda: a special permit for Athithi, a new restaurant coming to the Gateway Shopping Center; and Sweat Peat, which was found to be operating without a permit and will now have to apply.
The March 28 meeting will also include public hearings on the state legislation regarding outdoor dining, ADUs, and parking.
The first public workshop on the Wilton Center Master Plan will be held on Thursday, March 31 at 7:00 PM via zoom.
Due to an editing error, the original article indicated commissioners were reluctant to move quickly on bigger changes. The article has been updated to clarify that the discussions are ongoing.