P&Z Welcomes Proposed Conversion of Commercial Building to Apartments Under Affordable Housing Regs

At its Monday, Feb. 8 meeting, Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission heard an application to turn an existing mixed-use commercial building on lower Danbury Rd. into an 18-unit apartment building under CT’s 8-30g Affordable Housing statutes.

The building at 2 Hollyhock Rd. is owned by Clark Holdings, LLC and currently serves as a multi-use office building, a furniture production studio, and a furniture gallery for Gregory Clark Collection. It is located in a “Design Enterprise District,” or DE-5 zone.

Gregory Clark, the building’s owner, told commissioners that due to a shrinking office market in recent years, the property has consistently been “under-leased,” and most recently lost half of its tenants after the COVID pandemic began.

In addition, the home interior design market in Fairfield County has changed, and he has moved much of his furniture design operation to New York City.

As a result, he hopes to convert the building into residential units.

Clark said he discussed the proposed change with First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and Town Planner Michael Wrinn, and suggested that the town officials supported the idea of converting the building into 18 apartments under the 8-30g affordable housing statutes.

He also said that the proposal has been refined after feedback from Planning and Zoning Department staff and the Architectural Review Board, especially with regard to parking.

The application has been revised to consist of 12 studios, no one-bedroom apartments, and six two-bedroom apartments.

Clark said little change will be made to the exterior, with the exception of adding windows and customizing some windows to offer terraces. Other changes are proposed to improve landscaping and to add parking spaces, both in the existing parking lot and curbside spots on the Hollyhock Rd. side.

Rick Tomasetti, the P&Z Commission chair, noted that the application described how the proposed conversion would comply and conform with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.

One thing Tomasetti asked Clark to clarify is why he had chosen to have so many studio apartments rather than make some into one-bedroom units.

Clark said the design capitalizes on a current trend he has researched of “micro rooms”–smaller, space-conscious, and thoughtfully designed units that he said are acceptable by his target market of younger, millennial renters. Featuring studios instead of one-bedrooms would also help reduce the required number of parking spots.

For the most part, the commissioners seemed to be favorable toward the application, appreciating the addition of more diverse housing stock with an affordability aspect.

Tomasetti said that he thought the plan was a good reuse of a property that “wasn’t as desirable as it once was.”

“Our DE-5 zone was a big backbone to our community in the way of jobs. It’s unfortunate they’re under pressure for the lack of economic vibrancy that once happened here. But as a property owner, I understand what needs to be done from an economic standpoint. This is a good solution that makes our community robust and healthy,” he said.

Commissioner Christopher Pagliaro added, “I think this is a great way to accomplish the needs of the town.”

One other plus is that the property is located just south of the intersection of Danbury Rd. and Grumman Hill Rd., which was recently improved by the CT Department of Transportation and features new crosswalks and sidewalks.

Commissioner Doris Knapp, however, was concerned about the way Clark calculated the number of parking spots and that some tenants would not be able to have a car.

“It’s really impractical to tell people who are would be renting a studio that they can’t have a car. You need a container of milk, you need some bread, how are you going to get to a store? How do you provide for basic necessities if you can’t access a car?” she said.

In the application, Clark acknowledged that the Town of Wilton regulations would require 37 spaces, but that he determined the building would need only 23 spaces using the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Parking Generation Manual, which he said was “a widely accepted source for the determination of parking demand.”

Clark explained that not only does the proposed plan include more than the number of spots suggested by the ITE Parking Manual, but the addition of curbside parking on the street would even further exceed what would be necessary. He added that two of the studio tenants would be offered a reduction in rent if they choose not to have a car.

Clark said his research showed that many of the surrounding neighborhood businesses–especially ASML across the street–would possibly lease some of the units for their millennial or expatriate employees who wouldn’t have cars, potentially eliminating the need for more parking.

“We have more than enough parking,” he suggested.

Tomasetti added that in reality, because the application qualified as an 8-30g, the objection to the number of spaces wouldn’t meet the threshold for finding safety as an issue in order to reject the application. Moreover, the target millennial renters would likely get food and basics delivered and wouldn’t need to own a vehicle.

Wrinn read a letter from Chris and Mimi Brophy, the owners of a neighboring property at 6 Hollyhock Rd. Despite welcoming the idea of converting the building from commercial office space to an 8-30g residential development, they also expressed concern about the parking plan.

“We are not sure all the concepts are grounded in real-life application once the project is completed, and tenants are living their everyday lives. The Mitigation Strategies of designating a percentage of apartments to be ‘car-free’ may not be practical in present day Wilton. Our hope is that the Town of Wilton will work with Greg to ensure practical application of the parking to maintain Hollyhock Road as a place of quiet enjoyment for owners and tenants,” they wrote.

Since Monday’s meeting, resident Maxine Tobias wrote a letter suggesting that 23 spaces would be sufficient and that “the proposed location is on a bus line that can take passengers to the center of town.”

The commissioners continued the hearing and asked the applicant to return at the next meeting on Monday, Feb. 22 with additional details on landscaping and lighting.