On Monday, Oct. 18, Wilton’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) meeting featured an unusual agenda item: a presentation by a prominent developer about the economic benefits of the project he is proposing at 141 Danbury Rd.
The project, which involves the redevelopment of the former corporate offices of Melissa and Doug into a 173-unit apartment complex, has been steadily making its way through the approval process with various town boards, including a series of reviews by the Planning and Zoning Commission, Architectural Review Board and Inland Wetlands Commission.
Sam Fuller, president of Fuller Development, LLC, approached the EDC, hoping to receive a letter of endorsement from the commission as part of the final pitch to P&Z at next Monday’s Oct. 25 P&Z meeting.
“I wanted to present our plans to you because we do believe we’re going to have a very, very significant economic benefit not only to Wilton but to the area,” Fuller told the commission.
In a presentation document titled, “141 Danbury Rd.: Municipal Economic Benefit Analysis,” Fuller gave the commission an overview of the project.
Fuller highlighted the following economic benefits for the Town of Wilton:
- More Housing Inventory
As stated in Fuller’s presentation, “There is record low inventory and high home prices in the Wilton municipality. This project provides competition in rental housing that offers a lower barrier to entry for residents into the community. Increasing population leads to more money spent in the community.”
In his comments, Fuller emphasized his interpretation of Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development as validating his interest in the project and its suitability for Wilton.
“We bought [the property] after presenting our project to [P&Z] in two informal meetings, but only after reading and understanding the town’s newly adopted [POCD] which envisioned and encouraged multi-family development in order to bring population to the town and re-use parcels in the DE-5 zone which were tending to have less office occupancy, and in order to bring some vitality and a mix to the housing stock in town.”
Fuller added, “We were encouraged that this was the kind of development the town wanted.”
- New Resident Base
Fuller said the complex will appeal to a different type of resident who currently has limited options for housing in Wilton: young people, newly married or “newly unmarried,” and others whose lives are in transition, such as those with a new job or renovating a home, for example.
He also says tenants at the new complex would help fuel Wilton’s real estate market, by creating a ready pool of potential buyers for Wilton homes.
Fuller said, “People who want to establish themselves in town have a place to start, and they get hooked on Wilton and look to upgrade” for various reasons, whether to start a family, have their own home, etc.
- Tax Revenue
Fuller characterized the proposed complex as “a massive taxpayer without a massive cost to the town.”
Fuller projects the annual tax revenue for the town will be nearly $1.2 million, which includes the expected property tax, sewer fee, and estimated taxes from cars registered to tenants.
With 37 one-bedroom, 122 two-bedroom, and only 14 three-bedroom units, Fuller was fairly dismissive about the potential impact on the Wilton schools.
“Multi-family development like this doesn’t generate a lot of school children relative to its tax revenue,” according to Fuller. “It’s a substantial net positive.”
Of the 173 apartments, 17 of the units (10%) will be deed-restricted as affordable housing. Fuller spoke at length about his views on the affordable housing concept.
“It’s very significant and I think people don’t fully appreciate it… it is a substantial cost and a substantial burden [for developers],” he said.
“Ironically, [affordable housing requirements are] one of the barriers to entry for new housing development and one of the reasons we have a housing shortage.”
Fuller continued, “For some reason, the market has determined that the people who should have to build affordable housing are the ones who are building market-rate housing… [which] therefore has to subsidize the affordable housing.”
According to his calculations, the value of the affordable housing in the 141 Danbury Rd. proposal is about $6.3 million.
In his calculations above, Fuller said the capitalized value lost on the average affordable unit was essentially the cost to build it, equating it to “giving away” apartments.
“This is essentially contributing $6 million to [Wilton’s] affordable housing stock, which is thought to be — and the reason they have these regulations to require affordable housing — a benefit to the community.”
Fuller wants people to understand the challenge for developers to make the numbers work.
“The good news is we are able to do this, but it’s expensive,” he said.
While the commissioners were impressed with Fuller’s presentation (which included some Q&A about traffic, environmentally-friendly features, opportunities for local contractors and services, and marketing Wilton businesses to tenants, among other topics), they also appeared somewhat surprised by Fuller’s request for a formal endorsement.
Commissioner John DiCenzo recalled one such request several years ago, for which he said the EDC did make an endorsement, but none of the other commissioners had received a similar request during their tenures.
The EDC wrestled with the feasibility of making an endorsement in time for Monday’s P&Z meeting. The consensus was there wasn’t enough time to make a carefully considered decision.
“We need time to do the due diligence,” said EDC chair Prasad Iyer.
Their deliberations turned to the broader issue of whether the concept of an endorsement — and particularly one for a residential project — was something that fell under the EDC’s purview at all.
“What things, if any, should the EDC weigh in on…Should we even do letters of endorsement for any private business?” commissioner Alison Smith asked. “Isn’t it our job to create the opportunity… to encourage them to come to Wilton and go through the process [P&Z, Inland Wetlands, etc.]? It’s not our job to say yay or nay.”
The EDC’s Zoom meeting was recorded. The video can be found on the Town website.
See Fuller’s entire presentation to the EDC here:
[embeddoc url=”https://goodmorningwilton.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Wilton-Economic-Benefit.pptx” viewer=”microsoft”]
This is an interesting presentation and approach by Mr. Fuller. In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Sam for more than twenty years and have raced against him in sailing regattas for much of that time – I have a series of second place awards while he as collected many firsts. In my opinion, he is a capable sailor and developer having built may successful projects here in Fairfield County. As many readers know, I served on the Board of Finance from 2015-2019 and have spent dozens of hours understanding of the costs for providing services to our community.
There is an important piece missing from the financial analysis which is the NET impact on the finances of Wilton.
First, the incremental tax revenue is less the total Mr. Fuller shows as the current owners of 141 Danbury Road already paying about $446.000 in taxes to the community so the net increase is less than the $1.173M claimed. The NET projected annual increase is closer to $727,000.
The real flaw in the proposal is not recognizing the expense associated with the cost of educating students of the renters who will occupy the property. This year, the average cost per student in the Wilton Public Schools is $22,506 which is simply the Board of Education budget divided by the enrollment or $84.804M/ 3768 students. Therefore if 25 students were to reside in these proposed units at a cost today of nearly $563,000, the NET projected annual revenue to the town somewhere closer to $164k, still positive but far different from what was presented to the EDC. Should 33 or more students reside in these units, there would be an incremental annual COST to the town. As a reminder, the cost per pupil has grown much faster than the mil rate during the past years so time may well exacerbate this dynamic.
I’m not adverse to smart development in our community, just adverse to potentially misleading financial projections.
One type of housing development that would make sense for Wilton are those targeted for the 55 and older cohort. There would be little if any incremental loading on the schools while providing housing stock for those who may wish to stay in our town after their children move out, many of whom have less desire to manage a larger home and property. These owner-occupied units are typically larger with attached garages and basements and perhaps more representative of the amenities sought by at least some empty nesters than the development discussed here. Food for thought.
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