Three major development projects got a reboot this week as the Planning and Zoning Commission accepted several new and revised applications during its regular meeting on Monday, March 12. The Commission also looked ahead toward systemic changes that may be coming to Wilton’s zoning regulations, including a bevy of legislation in Hartford on housing issues. 

Wilton Center Lofts Fires back with 8-30g Application

Making good on earlier threats, the applicant behind the proposed multifamily development at 12 Godfrey Pl. withdrew their application after P&Z commissioners expressed concerns about the project at the Feb. 13 meeting and directed Town Planner Michael Wrinn to draft a resolution denying the application.

On Monday, commissioners accepted a new application for the site, which the applicant has now resubmitted as an 8-30g proposal. This section of Connecticut’s affordable housing law effectively allows developers to sidestep local zoning in towns like Wilton where less than 10% of residential units are considered affordable. 

The P&Z commission’s objections to the origional proposal largely came down to the sweeping nature of the zoning change the applicant had proposed, particularly as it related to the new zoning overlay that will soon be in place as a result of the town’s master planning process for Wilton Center

The initial 12 Godfrey application would have rewritten Wilton’s zoning regulations to allow larger, taller buildings (up to 56 units per acre, on any parcels greater than half an acre) across all of Wilton Center and any other areas of town within a half mile of a train station. It would also reduce the number of parking spaces new developments need to provide for residents and visitors. While the Commission had some hesitation about applying these changes so broadly, a graver concern emerged that the amendment proposed by 12 Godfrey would undermine the incentive structure at the heart of the new master plan. 

Conceived as a zoning overlay, the master plan’s updated regulations for Wilton Center would leave the existing zoning in place but offer a second tier of options to developers who agree to incorporate certain public benefits identified by the town.

For instance, the height and bulk requested by 12 Godfrey could, through the upcoming zoning overlay, be approved, but only by incorporating certain public spaces, affordability, or sustainable elements. While 12 Godfrey proactively offers many of those same public benefits, the zoning change the applicant sought to make would have made those height and bulk bonuses available to any future project in the area, regardless of whether other developers included such improvements.  

During the Commission’s Feb. 13 deliberation, Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini summarized the group’s objection. 

“While 12 Godfrey incorporated many of these same elements voluntarily,” she said. “the zoning regulation change they sought would not have required future developers to offer such concessions.”

“This change would take away all the benefit to the town of the overlay process,” Commissioner Florence Johnson added. 

Furthermore, P&Z Chair Rick Tomasetti repeatedly noted that he was not convinced that the initial proposal for 12 Godfrey would qualify under the new overlay. In particular, he expressed concern about the quality of the public space offered by the project and questioned whether it was reasonable to consider it a transit-oriented development given its distance from the train station. 

Foreshadowing what would come to pass, the project’s architect Rich Granoff and attorney Liz Suchy had expressed throughout the initial application review that if the Commission insisted on waiting for the new zoning overlay to be in place in order to greenlight the process, they would instead seek to go around the town’s zoning by resubmitting the project using the 8-30g guidelines. 

“If we can’t reach a resolution that is satisfactory to everyone, I think we would probably be faced with returning with an 8-30g. As everyone knows, that may not be something that delivers to you a project of the kind and scale and typology that Wilton Center would benefit from,” Suchy said, rather ominously, during a meeting on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. With this new application, they have done exactly that. 

However, P&Z had support from the top in their decision that the master plan process should be allowed to conclude as planned. During the Commission’s Jan. 23 meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice weighed in during the public hearing.

“I urge you to honor the process you set, and allow the draft plan to be presented in a public hearing with public comments, before making decisions about regulation changes. Residents need and want confidence in the plan and the process,” Vanderslice said.

The original plans and the new 8-30g application look very similar, with at least one major exception — the original plans featured four stories, while the 8-30g plans show a five story building on the same footprint.

The original plans for 12 Godfrey Pl. featured four stories, while the 8-30g plans show a five story building.
The original plans for 12 Godfrey Pl. featured four stories, while the 8-30g plans show a five story building.

During Monday’s (March 12) meeting, Wrinn summarized the new 8-30g application and explained that the proposal will go to the Village District Design Advisory Committee, the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Fire Marshal for comments. The Commission agreed to also pursue a peer review of certain elements of the proposal. The town will select an outside expert in the field to assess the impact the proposed development will have on the surrounding area. Both parking and traffic management were mentioned as potential peer review topics. 

P&Z has 65 days in which to hold a public hearing on the new application.

Checking in with Wilton’s Long-Awaited Hotel Proposal

More than six years in the making, a proposal for Wilton’s first hotel is at last winding its way through town review. Planned for the iPark property on the Wilton/Norwalk border, the project calls for the creation of a four-story hotel with 120 rooms and 9,000 square feet of meeting rooms and amenities. In 2016, P&Z approved a regulation change to allow the project but has been waiting ever since for a full application to be submitted. 

A rendering of a proposed 4-story hotel to be built at the iPark property on the Wilton/Norwalk border. Credit: Town of Wilton P&Z

Wrinn summarized the next steps for the Commission, noting that the application will start with the Inland Wetlands Commission before coming to P&Z, and that DPW and the Fire Marshal will also weigh in. He asked whether peer review should be pursued for any elements of the proposal, in this case citing parking and stormwater drainage as potential issues. 

The Commission will wait for final parking calculations to be submitted by the applicant before deciding whether to conduct a peer review on that topic, but Tomasetti expressed a preference for deferring to Inland Wetlands on whether a peer review of drainage on the site should be conducted. 

Wilton Land Conservation Trust Returns with New & Improved Plan for 183 Ridgefield Rd.

Last summer, after months of technical challenges and confusion about the town’s review process, the Wilton Land Conservation Trust (WLCT) withdrew its application to use a historic barn on the Trust’s 183 Ridgefield Rd. property as an educational center. At the time, the group had been encouraged to return to P&Z with a more robust application. 

At Monday’s meeting (March 12), Wrinn explained to the commissioners that the Trust has submitted a new application that seeks to resolve many of the issues that doomed the earlier proposal, including a new driveway location and plans for overflow parking and stormwater drainage. The proposal will be reviewed by the Architectural Review Board first before coming to P&Z, hopefully later this spring. 

Exploring Changes to Wilton’s Site Coverage Rules 

The Commissioners also conducted a brief working session on the topic of stormwater drainage for residential properties, during which the group noted that Wilton is unusual in limiting its stormwater management oversight to merely a calculation of lot coverage. Many neighboring towns, including New Canaan and Ridgefield, engage in a more nuanced assessment that takes into account permeable pavement and other relevant design elements. 

“It’s time we grow up as a community and confront stormwater management on site,” Commissioner Chris Pagliaro said. “I’ve been living here for 27 years and I can tell you where ice is going to be on a Tuesday morning. You can see where it beats the roads up. Wilton is the only community I work in where that’s not a requirement.” 

Wrinn agreed to gather information on how peer towns handle the issue and revisit it with the Commission at a future meeting. 

Busy Legislative Agenda Underway in Hartford

Finally, Wrinn updated commissioners on several state housing bills that are up for consideration this session, some of which head to hearings in Hartford this week. He highlighted a recent letter from Francis R. Pickering, President of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, which offers an overview of some of the major legislative changes being considered. First Selectwoman Vanderslice also outlined many of the proposals in an update issued to residents on Thursday, Mar. 9.  

Wrinn described the wide field of potential legislation, calling several of the bills, “complicated and at odds with each other.” 

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be interesting to see what sticks,” he said, encouraging the commissioners to review each of the bills being proposed. 

Looking Ahead

The next meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled for Monday, March 27 at 7 p.m. That meeting will include a public hearing on a proposal for a new parking lot at 372, 378, and 380 Danbury Rd. The public hearing for the new A Kids Place daycare facility at 436 Danbury Rd. will be continued until the Architectural Review Board has been able to conduct its process with the applicant.