Wilton residents got a taste of noteworthy GOOD news during Monday evening’s (May 24) Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. Not only did the commission speedily approve applications for Rise Doughnuts and Caraluzzi’s Wine and Spirits shop (on the first week that public hearings were opened on both), but also residents had the opportunity to attend the meeting in person.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilton town boards and commissions have held all meetings remotely on Zoom.
But Monday’s P&Z meeting was conducted in a “hybrid” format, combining Zoom with “in-person” public participation at a town-owned building.
All commissioners but one called in via Zoom from their own homes; the last remaining commissioner, Melissa-Jean Rotini, logged onto Zoom from a Comstock Community Center meeting room. There, officials set up a computer terminal to give any member of the public the option of attending the meeting in person at the same place where at least one member of the commission was present.
Sarah Gioffre, Wilton’s Coordinator of Community Affairs, confirmed last night’s meeting was the first in the pandemic era to offer an in-person component.
Last Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont issued a revised executive order extending permission for municipalities to continue conducting remote and hybrid meetings until June 30. The state legislature may make remote or hybrid options more permanent.
Public Hearing on Rise Doughnuts
Rise Doughnuts, the pop-up doughnut shop that previously operated out of Parlor and later the Schoolhouse restaurants, sought a special permit to open a fast-food business at 28 Center St., the former location of Lang’s Pharmacy in Wilton Center. A special permit is required to allow takeout service only rather than restaurant table service.
Rise business owner Hugh Mangum told the commission that since COVID-19 forced his other NYC restaurants to close, “Rise has been the shining star.” Rise has had a … meteoric rise in popularity since being introduced last summer, attracting national media attention and patrons from afar.
“We’re really excited to take our pop-up and make it a full-time business in the heart of Wilton at the Lang’s space,” Mangum said. “It feels like the perfect home for us. It’s part of the community. We want to be a beacon for the community. We want to be [where] we can help spread joy.”
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.
Mangum said there would be seating for 12 guests but no table service. He also told the commission the business will be open six days a week, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. with evening hours until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and a special weekend dessert menu.
Mangum expects the full-time schedule would alleviate the long lines the pop-up shop has experienced during its limited, weekend-only schedule.
With two letters of support from the public in advance of the meeting, and no other comment during the public hearing, the commission ultimately approved the application for the permit.
P&Z Commission chair Rick Tomasetti concluded, “This is the exact type of use we’re looking for in a walkable downtown community. I think it will be great.”
Public Hearing on Caraluzzi’s Wine and Spirits
The commission also opened a public hearing on the special permit application for a Caraluzzi’s Wine and Spirits shop, in the vacant space previously occupied by Chase Bank, adjacent to Caraluzzi’s Market at 920 Danbury Rd.
The proposed new package store would be roughly 3,675 sq. ft. A proposed floor plan shows numerous sets of shelving, wine racks and a large cooler area along the back wall.
The interior is expected to have similar aesthetics to the shop Caraluzzi’s currently operates at its Bethel location (see photo below).
Representatives from Caraluzzi’s told the commission their Bethel location, which also has both a grocery market and a liquor store, “has worked well” especially in terms of “internal capture,” that is, offering “one-stop shopping” for their customers who already come for groceries.
Caraluzzi’s team also assured commissioners that deliveries would have “no interference” with customer traffic because they would take place at the rear of the store, out of sight, and during slow business hours (8-11 a.m.).
At the conclusion of the public hearing, the commission voted unanimously to approve the special permit.
Notably, both the Caraluzzi’s package store and Rise Doughnuts applications were approved on their first appearances in front of the commission, and commissioners seemingly found no faults in either. Multiple commissioners described the applications as “straightforward” without any parking issues or anticipated adverse impacts, and noted that the applicants had even considered recycling and other environmental factors in their plans.
Signage at 60 Danbury Road
The commission talked extensively with representatives from Wilton Medical Realty, LLC, regarding numerous proposed business signs at 60 Danbury Rd.
Under Wilton zoning regulations, special permits are required for large developments such as at that location. The 75,000 sq.ft. complex, previously occupied by Sun Products Corp., is being converted to medical offices and an ambulatory surgical center.
The applicant had previously met with the Architectural Review Board on the proposed signage. During the P&Z meeting, both Michael Wrinn, Wilton’s Town Planner, and the applicant characterized the ARB review as generally favorable.
While it was clear the applicant had hoped for a final approval Monday night from P&Z, the commission was not yet convinced that all of the issues had been addressed.
Eight signs are proposed throughout the complex, including three to replace existing signs as designated in the photo below with numbers 1 (on front of the building), 4 (along Danbury Rd.) and 6 (directional signage within the complex).
As seen in the rendering below, the proposed signage along Danbury Rd. would be 7.5 ft. tall. It would be “internally illuminated” in darkness, which raised concerns for Tomasetti because, he said, it might create “very bright, ultra-white light that is potentially distracting” to drivers.
“Internally illuminated” signs (such as the one above) and “halo lit” (or back-lit) options were presented. Examples are shown, respectively, below.
The applicant agreed to submit additional materials on lighting options for the commission to consider at the next meeting.
In addition to the signage on Danbury Rd. and the building’s facade, there would be signs guiding patients upon arrival to the complex at the traffic circle (#5 in the photo above), parking garage (#8) and an elevated pedestrian walkway connecting the garage to the facility (#3). There would also be signs on the rear of the building.
The sheer number (or size) of the proposed signage could seem excessive, but one representative from Medical Realty Group urged the commission to consider the unique importance of signage at a surgical facility.
He asked commissioners to imagine themselves as a patient arriving at a facility, likely for the first time, very early in the morning, after a restless night, for a surgical procedure. “There is always a certain level of anxiety that a patient experiences regardless how routine that surgery might be.”
He said that signage is one aspect of the patient’s experience that can help to minimize anxiety by helping patients easily find their way. In fact, “wayfinding” is one aspect of patient experience that is often measured in patient satisfaction studies.
More broadly, commissioner Rotini felt there were questions about how the proposed signage would fit into the larger environment of the office park, which has other business tenants as well. In part, her concern is whether other tenants might seek similarly large signage along Danbury Rd. or within the office park. The applicant agreed to provide more context at the next meeting.