Wilton’s Planning & Zoning Commission met earlier this week with a number of topics on the agenda, ranging from routine business to discussion of more strategic issues such as where state zoning legislation might be heading and what parameters Wilton should consider on building heights as a wave of new development seems imminent.

The Monday, May 10 meeting (recorded on Zoom) began with the acceptance of applications from a couple of well-known, Wilton commercial enterprises seeking permits for new locations.

Rise Doughnuts

What started as a pop-up doughnut shop by Hugh Mangum at Tim LaBant‘s Parlor Restaurant during the coronavirus shutdown, and later moved to LaBant’s other restaurant, The Schoolhouse at CannondaleRise Doughnuts is now seeking a special permit for 28 Center St., the location previously occupied by Lang’s Pharmacy in Wilton Center.

Town Planner Michael Wrinn reported to the commission that the application is “ready to go to a public hearing” at the next P&Z meeting.

The application materials (viewable on the town website), show a proposed floor plan with a front counter inside the entry; and a prep space, cooking area, and a glazing station at the back, along with a walk-in cooler.

As the floor plan indicates, and as Wrinn noted during the meeting, there would be “limited seating inside.” Beyond that comment, the details of the application were not discussed.

Caraluzzi’s Wine and Spirits

P&Z has also received an application for a special permit for a beer, wine and spirits shop at 920 Danbury Rd. in Georgetown, in the vacant space adjacent to Caraluzzi’s Market, previously occupied by Chase Bank.

Caraluzzi’s Market in Bethel already operates with a wine and spirits shop next door, and the retailer wishes to replicate that model at its Georgetown location.

The application submitted to Wilton P&Z says Caraluzzi’s Market receives “multiple inquiries a day” from customers looking to purchase beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages.

The proposed new package store would be roughly 3,675 sq. ft. A preliminary floor plan shows numerous sets of shelving (both freestanding and along perimeter walls), “specialty wine racks,” and a large cooler area along the back wall, with ten doors for beer and four for chilled wine and champagne.

No changes for parking are proposed, and no adverse impacts are anticipated by the applicant.

As with Rise Doughnuts, Wrinn told the commission the application for Caraluzzi’s Wine and Spirits was ready for their review at the next meeting.

Architectural Review of Proposed New Brewery/Restaurant

Wrinn also informed the P&Z Commission that an application for a new craft brewery and restaurant had recently been reviewed by Wilton’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) on May 6. (At the time this story was published, a recording of that meeting had not yet been posted to the town website.)

The new brewpub would be located at 4 Danbury Road in South Wilton, in the building that was formerly a branch office of Wells Fargo.

The latest plans show a restaurant space that would be approximately 1,658 sq. ft. Tables for patrons would be located on either side of a bar, and alongside a “brew lab”.

The application included proposed building elevations, as seen below. Exterior design elements would include some new horizontal plank siding; metal-frame windows, entry doors and door canopy; industrial-look lanterns; and exterior, back-lit metal signage, among other features.

Wrinn told the P&Z commissioners the ARB review “went well” and predicted, “you’ll be seeing that before you know it.”

Stories Don’t Always Tell The Whole Story

The P&Z commission used the May 10 meeting as an opportunity to have a discussion on building height outside the context of a specific building proposal.

Building heights have been discussed in some recent pre-application reviews (most recently 2/24 Pimpewaug Road) and the commission expects more questions will arise in the wave of new development officials see coming.

P&Z Commission chair Rick Tomasetti wanted to be proactive with the discussion. “This is a good discussion to start having, considering we will be tackling some of these issues, I believe, in future applications and certainly in our Master Planning. So for all of us to get ahead on this is good,” he said.

Wrinn then took the lead on presenting a number of architectural examples of buildings (one from Greenwich, one from New Canaan, among others) that were able to achieve a higher number of stories than their visual impression might suggest.

Wrinn explained, “there are any number of ways you could go about” adding a story or two while avoiding an intrusive visual impact from the street, and that he said would be “very critical” for any new development in Wilton Center.

The P&Z Commission reviewed a number of architectural styles that added height with little tradeoff on visual appeal

Wrinn shared several of those examples (shown below). [Note: these are only architectural examples, not proposed for Wilton.]

A setback on the top story of this building makes it visually less imposing
Wrinn used this example of a four-story building that “still reads like a two-story”
With underground parking in the rear, these townhouses in downtown New Canaan are four stories

The highest floors in the rendering below are essentially invisible from the actual streetscape. Tomasetti credited the English architectural firm for adding visual interest with cornice lines, “belting,” balconies, varying facades and heights.

All of the above examples served to make Wrinn’s point, that “there are many ways to resolve some of these issues of the number of stories and building height by getting good design.”

Pending Legislation on Land Use

The backdrop to any discussion of the town’s long-range planning is, of course, the potential for legislative action at the state level that would impact local planning and zoning authority.

Wrinn gave the commission an update on some of the proposals that have been floated by lawmakers in Hartford. Noting that only a few weeks remain in the current legislative session, Wrinn said, “It’s really a case of trying to figure out where we’re going to be by June 2.”

But that, he says, remains very unclear. “We’re still all over the place on this [in Hartford]. We really can’t get a good handle on where this is going to land.”

He referred to one of the more notorious proposals, SB-1024, that initially “had a lot of pieces to it” but whose current status is more of a work-in-progress. The most controversial element of that bill, drafted by Desegregate CT, would have permitted “as-of-right” development of higher-density housing within a a certain distance of a transit station and a main street (with no process for town approval), but that was removed from the bill before advancing out of committee.

Wrinn spent more time discussing HB-6611 which he said is “essentially an affordable housing bill” in which the state would assess what areas across the state lack affordable housing. This bill, also known as the “fair share plan”, takes a more regional approach in which the task of providing more affordable housing would fall to those towns, presumably like Wilton, that do not currently meet a certain threshold of affordable housing.

In that scenario, Wilton would be required to create an affordable housing plan to reach a higher level of affordable housing in what town officials expect would be a complicated, litigious system with, as Wrinn said, “a lot of unknowns.”

Wrinn said he is “not sure where that bill is going, but it’s very far-reaching.”

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice previously called that bill “burdensome” and said it would “effectively result in almost every CT suburban community being placed under land court supervision.”

Wrinn said he placed “a couple of calls” to invite Will Haskell to inform the commission of his thoughts and expectations for the bill, and to “have a conversation back and forth,” but Wrinn did not indicate if he had received a reply.

He also referred to testimony submitted by the town of Ridgefield on HB-6611, which asserted that Ridgefield (much like the position many Wilton two officials would take) is already “a strong advocate for affordable housing,” having approved 38 affordable housing applications and having modified its zoning regulations to advance housing diversity by allowing accessory dwelling units and other “middle housing.”

At issue, Ridgefield posited, is that HB-6611 “disregards local needs and subjects the towns to demand brought by housing advocates, developers, aggrieved individuals, or special interest groups, and then mandates that the towns must pay the legal costs, and damages, for the litigation brought against them.”

Finally, the Ridgefield testimony suggested “a more constructive approach” would be “correcting the flaws within 8-30g” and “to approach them in collaboration with the towns.”