Overview of proposed sewer extension, submitted to P&Z

The Monday, Oct. 24 meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission started off with a bang, with the Commission voting unanimously to issue a negative report on the proposed sewer extension at 19 Cannon Rd. This report, a response to an 8-24 referral from the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA), is expected to highlight that the applicant has failed to demonstrate the need for sewer access on a lot that is zoned — at least currently — for a single-family home. The WPCA members will consider this report to make their final decision on the sewer extension application in November.

Although P&Z’s report is only advisory and not binding, it strikes a blow against the developer, Baywing LLC, which is seeking to construct a 70-unit multi-family complex on the site. An approval from WPCA on a sewer extension would pave the way for Baywing to proceed with its project by invoking 8-30g, Connecticut’s affordable housing statute that allows developers to sidestep local zoning in towns like Wilton where less than 10% of residential units are considered affordable.

Last week in a special meeting of P&Z, the attorney for the applicant — Timothy Hollister — faced off against Wilton Town Counsel Peter Gelderman over differing interpretations of what the 8-24 referral statute allows P&Z commissioners to consider in determining their recommendation. Both attorneys are themselves veterans of similar fights over affordable housing projects in nearby towns, including New Canaan’s Weed Street and Westport’s Hiawatha Lane.

Hollister had argued that P&Z could only consider “whether this 300-ft sewer extension is ‘consistent’ with the POCD [Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development, issued in 2019]. The POCD identifies this section of Cannondale as a potential sewer growth area. However, it also calls for a master planning process and protection for the neighborhood’s “historic character.”

Gelderman argued that the scope of an 8-24 referral is not nearly so restrictive, allowing P&Z in its planning capacity to consider the entirety of the POCD’s comments on the Cannondale neighborhood — not simply sections on the potential for sewer growth — as well as the ultimate impact that an extension like the one proposed might have.

During that meeting, the commissioners seemed to bristle at Hollister’s case for constraining the discussion to a narrow consideration of sewer extension. Agreeing to this limitation would mean disregarding both the project ultimately intended on the site and the broader planning process that the Town intends to conduct in the Cannondale neighborhood.

During Monday’s deliberations, however, several commissioners focused on what they saw as the failure of the applicant to argue its own case within those constraints.

“I’m being asked to ‘stay in my lane’ and not consider anything but the merits of the sewer extension,” said Commissioner Chris Pagliaro. “In that case: 1) the lot is zoned for [a single family home]; 2) I have no evidence that a septic system will not work on this lot; and 3) I’m not allowed to forecast a master planning effort, nor do I have an application for a building that may be desired or not. So I see no reason why I would currently be in favor of extending a sewer line to this particular property at this time.”

Since the project was resubmitted in September, members of the public have submitted more than 40 letters about the application, with the overwhelming majority (though not all) opposing the sewer extension. Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini spoke to a recent surge in identical form letters submitted to the Town expressing support for the project. The letters state that “public infrastructure funded by private capital is a tremendous benefit to the town.”

Rotini questioned the relevance of this argument, stating that it seemed to contradict the applicant’s premise that only the POCD and only the appropriateness of the sewer extension should be under consideration, not — for example — broader financial benefit to the Town. Of the public letters received, she said, “People submit things that may or may not be applicable, but when the proposer submits it, you assume it would be applicable for the analysis they would like you to undertake.”

After each Commissioner had a chance to speak, P&Z Chair Rick Tomasetti wrapped up the deliberation period by responding to a comment Hollister made during the prior meeting regarding how long the applicant should be expected to wait for the Town to conduct its master plan process and implied that it could be a stall tactic.

“I thought about that. I understand it. But look at our record. Knowing what we’ve done here as a commission — conducting the POCD process, starting the Wilton Center Master Plan and the Amenities Master Plan, putting out an RFP for the sewer plan — we’re not a community of inaction. We’ve been doing a lot to move the community forward from a planning perspective.”

The sewer plan he referenced is a Town Wide Sanitary Sewer System Inflow and Infiltration Study, announced via a request for qualifications issued on Friday, Oct. 14. GOOD Morning Wilton spoke with Director of Public Works Frank Smeriglio about the study, which he said had been in the works since the spring and was under discussion as early as last fall.

Looking Ahead

Town Planner Michael Wrinn had been asked to prepare resolutions authorizing both a positive and negative report to WPCA. With deliberations concluded, the Commission voted in favor of a negative report, with a few minor changes to the staff-prepared draft. The report will now be drafted and submitted to WPCA, which is expected to return a final decision sometime in November.

The battle may be far from over, however. At last week’s special meeting, Hollister alluded to contingency plans to challenge any theoretical rejection by the WPCA in a lawsuit. “If there is a negative report [from P&Z], and if WPCA turns us down, we have a right to appeal to court. We are interested in what you do but it’s not going to derail the application.”

The next meeting of the Water Pollution Control Authority is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 9. Several members of the Planning & Zoning Commission will reconvene on Wednesday, Oct. 26 for a special meeting of the Greater Wilton Center Master Plan subcommittee.

Additional projects discussed during the Monday, Oct. 24 meeting — including the new LDS Meeting House at 241 Danbury Rd. — will be covered by GMW later this week.