P&Z Takes Another Look at Kimco’s River Rd. Redevelopment Plan, Hears Updates on ASML & Pedestrian Bridge

Updated rendering of the future 5 and 21 River Rd. submitted by Kimco

The Monday, June 27 meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission included incremental updates on several ongoing projects around town, including the long-awaited pedestrian bridge connecting the train station to Wilton Center.

The public hearing on one project — a special permit application by the Wilton Land Conservation Trust to use a historic barn on its 183 Ridgefield Rd. property as an educational center — was continued yet again, this time due to internet issues on the part of the applicant. Project updates, questions from the Commissioners, and comments from the public will instead be heard during the Monday, July 11 meeting.

Kimco’s 21 River Rd. Redevelopment Project

The longest discussion of the evening came in response to the latest pre-application hearing for Kimco’s project to redevelop the southern portion of its Wilton Center campus. After years of widespread vacancy, Kimco has presented plans to raze the existing structure at 21 River Rd. and construct a 160-unit multi-family residential complex on that site and a portion of the existing parking lot.

Nicholas Brown, Vice President of Development for Kimco, explained that the evening’s presentation would respond to topics brought up in the May discussion with the Commission. The project’s architect, Brian O’Connor of CUBE 3, described an iterative process in which Kimco hopes to avoid “wide swings” in favor of “a gentle evolution” in the design, in response to feedback from the town.

The main changes discussed were the architectural design of the future 21 River Rd., which is known as Building 1a in the application, and the possibility of a pedestrian plaza between that structure and the future Building 2a. The building that currently sits on the 2a site at 5 River Rd. is home to the UPS Store, Sola Salon, and soon, Press Burger, among other tenants. Replacing it is part of a longer-term vision that Kimco says may be as much as a decade down the road. In that future plan, they have contemplated flipping the direction of the retail so that the storefronts would face south towards Building 1a rather than opening into the Stop & Shop parking lot.

Ahmed Aly, an architect with CUBE 3, presented the new architectural direction for Building 1a, explaining that the group had added variations in building heights and façades to create “more of a village feel.”

Town Planner Michael Wrinn opened the discussion by asking for clarity on a particularly ambiguous element of the rendering, a nearly continuous line of shading above what appeared to be the roofline, which the Kimco team confirmed represents the pitched roof of the taller, four-story rear side of the building. Designed as a 3 1/2 story structure, the higher half-floors would be positioned at the back of the building.

“That little gray bar that is actually roof, so it’s kind of mischaracterized in the rendering,” said Chair Rick Tomasetti. “I’m led to believe it’s this little village — you know, we’re up in Newport, and these buildings all organically wound up like this. But once you tell me that it’s actually the bigger building in the back, I take issue with that. That’s more plastic architecture — Disney-esque. I don’t buy that. You have to do a better job of integrating it.”

Tomasetti also noted that the Wilton Center Master Planning process is scheduled to wrap up in the fall and that the town’s new regulations and design guidelines for this area may change as a result.

Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini also expressed concern. “I remain unenthused. I like the brick of the current building. What you’ve replaced it with is what it feels like comes before us on everything — a bunch of different pseudo-colonial buildings that are meant to look like they pop up.”

Updated rendering of potential plaza between the future 5 and 21 River Rd. (Source: Kimco Pre-Application)

Turning to the possibility of a pedestrian plaza between the future Building 1a and 2a (currently 21 River Rd. and 5 River Rd.) the Commissioners were split in their enthusiasm about the idea of shared vehicular and pedestrian space. While Tomasetti and Commissioner Florence Johnson expressed excitement about the possibility, both Rotini and Commissioner Jill Warren were concerned about public safety and the potential for car accidents.

Brown agreed to return with further design considerations, including renderings showing only Phase 1 for clarity, in light of the fact that Phase 2 may be as much as a decade away. The project will also soon begin a review process with the Architectural Review Board/Village District Design Advisory Committee.

ASML’s New Driveway

The Commissioners also received an updated presentation on ASML’s package of applications to allow for the construction of a new driveway at their 77 Danbury Rd. site. Daniel Conant, attorney for the applicant, reiterated 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, preferred driveway path will follow a shorter but steeper route around the site and would require a change to Wilton’s steep slope regulations.

Conant opened by explaining that the team representing ASML reviewed the original town minutes that dealt with the adoption of the current steep slope amendment. The existing text places the same limit on slope disturbances for all sites, regardless of lot size. ASML argues that the current regulation was adopted to limit the amount of disturbance in smaller, residential zones such as R1a and R2a, without consideration of the impact on larger commercial zones such as ASML’s DE-10. They have proposed a text amendment raising the allowable slope disturbance limit in DE-10 zones greater than five acres. This change would only affect three sites in town: 77 Danbury Rd. and 10 and 20 Westport Rd.

ASML is scheduled to meet with the Inland Wetlands Commission next and Conant also reported that the team is in communications with nearby neighbors who may be affected by the change.

“Prior to tonight, ASML invited adjacent residential neighbors to a meeting at the 77 Danbury Rd. location. At this meeting on May 25, the neighbors were provided with the plans that are before you this evening and the neighbors had the opportunity to speak with [representatives of ASML and its engineering firm Tighe & Bond],” Conant told the Commission.

Finally, Joe Canas, principal engineer with Tighe & Bond, briefed the Commission on the project updates covered in last month’s Architectural Review Board meeting. Initial boring explorations on the site revealed that retaining walls will be needed in two spots where underlying stone lies too far below ground level. At ARB’s direction, ASML is reviewing darker material options for the two walls, which will use a composite block style found elsewhere on the site.

The public hearing was held open because a review by the Inland Wetlands Commission is still forthcoming. The project will likely be heard by P&Z again at the Monday, July 25 meeting.

Pedestrian Bridge

In a final topic, Wrinn briefed the Commission on the status of the pedestrian bridge linking Wilton Center and the train station. The project, in the works since at least 2007, was delayed most recently by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We finally got the DOT approval to accept the lowest bid. Our engineer is now reviewing the shop drawings, which is the next step. We’re going to try to finalize the lead time on materials to make sure we don’t have any issues, none are anticipated. It’s about six to seven months worth of work, so we’d like to get everything completed by December or January, and then work to final completion in early spring,” Wrinn said.

Looking Ahead

The next meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission will be held on Monday, July 11. On Wednesday, July 20, the Greater Wilton Center Master Plan subcommittee will meet with consultants BFJ Planning to discuss the latest work underway in the process.