Among other business at the Monday, Dec. 5 Board of Selectmen meeting, the selectmen heard an update from Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Rick Tomasetti on the Greater Wilton Center Master Planning process.
Master Plan Update
“We’re making great progress,” Tomasetti told the board.
In fact, he said, the process is nearing completion. The goal is to bring the plan to the Commission by the end of the year, and present it to the public in January, followed by the completion of new, form-based zoning code in February.
Tomasetti has been satisfied with the public input received in the process, noting that the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) successfully laid the groundwork for a productive Master Planning process.
Town Planner Michael Wrinn says residents can expect to see an emphasis on “the public realm” in Wilton Center, as a more walkable, livable and connected environment.
“We’re not changing the underlying zoning. We’re adding some incentives for an overlay district,” Tomasetti emphasized.
Tomasetti said he envisions the output from the planning process will be “much more comprehensive and thought out” than simple building height and setback regulations, resulting in a more vibrant and better-designed environment.
“What Happens to Us?”
In an email to Tomasetti in advance of the meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice alerted him to questions she planned to raise about the potential impact of draft legislation at the state level.
“The CT Chapter of the American Planners Association released their 2023 legislative priorities, which included support for Desegregate [CT]‘s Work Live Ride Act 2023, which they noted includes, among others, financial assistance to municipalities that commit to create a transit-oriented community (TOC) district and removes state funding for communities that don’t commit to do so,” Vanderslice wrote. [UPDATE: At the Dec. 20 Board of Selectmen meeting, Vanderslice clarified that the legislative priorities of the CT Chapter of the American Planners Association were only preliminary, and had not yet been adopted by the association membership.]
She also shared a draft map prepared by Town staff to roughly depict the half-mile radius around the Wilton Center train station, as potential legislation might define a Wilton TOC. Density within a TOC could be as high as 15 housing units per one acre.
Vanderslice emphasized that the map was illustrative and “simply to provide context,” but noted a full build-out of thousands of housing units within the radius would be far from realistic.
“We’re not implying that, if this passes, that 70% of this is all going to be developed to the maximum that could be allowed. That would be kind of obscene. That would be 350 acres times 15 units to an acre. That’s never going to happen in Wilton,” Vanderslice said, noting that would nearly double Wilton’s total housing units.
Vanderslice seems concerned that TOC legislation, if passed, would supersede the Town’s ability to maximize the investment in the Wilton Center Master Plan.
“Obviously when you look at this, it doesn’t line up with the area you’ve been working on,” Vanderslice told Tomasetti. “This is on the horizon. I’m just wondering, what happens to us? How does this match up with the [Master Planning] work we’re doing?”
“Look, we don’t know what would be passed,” Tomasetti replied. “They’ve been talking about a lot of this stuff for a while.”
He said transit-oriented development (as defined in previous legislative drafts) “doesn’t really work” in a community like Wilton.
“These types of regulations don’t consider a whole host of other things. There’s no one-size-fits-all. This is not downtown Stamford or downtown New Haven,” Tomasetti said. “It just doesn’t work [in Wilton.]”
“I urge everyone to talk to their representatives to explain why this process doesn’t work,” he continued. “You can’t just put a pin on a map and say ‘here you go.’ You have rivers and wetlands and train tracks. It’s easy to draw the circle but it doesn’t work in reality.”
“Wilton could have a bit more density,” Tomasetti noted. “But a bit more density versus half a mile from Wilton’s train station are two completely different things.”
Turning the discussion back to the Master Plan, Tomasetti emphasized that higher density is not the Town’s sole priority.
“We’re not just saying we want more density… we’re talking about incentivizing affordability, historic preservation, a better-built environment, higher design standards, the sustainability aspect… There are other aspects of people’s daily lives that they want improved with new development.”
More BOS News
- Town Administrator Matt Knickerbocker discussed updates to Wilton’s Employee Handbook. A final draft of the handbook has been posted on the Town website. The board voted unanimously to approve the updates as presented.
- Knickerbocker also presented bids for the budgeted purchase of a new catch basin vacuum truck for Wilton’s Dept. of Public Works. Two bids for the combination jet/vacuum sewer cleaner were posted on the Town website: one for $529,358 and another for $498,651 . Knickerbocker recommended the latter, for having all of the desired features and being within budget. The board unanimously approved the bid.
- The selectmen approved their 2023 regular meeting calendar along with important milestone dates for the FY2024 budget planning process. GOOD Morning Wilton is reporting on key BOS and BOE budget timelines in a separate story today.
- The selectmen also unanimously approved the following appointments:
- Tax Collector: Jessica Baldwin (promotion from Acting Tax Collector)
- Blight Prevention Officer: Mark Lawrence
- Investment Committee: Richard Nichol (reappointed, term ending Nov. 30, 2024)
- Economic Development Commission: Alison Smith (reappointed, term ending June 30, 2024)
- Trustee for the retirement plan for employees of the Town of Wilton: Ruth DeLuca
- Inland Wetlands Commission: Frank Simone (term ending 11/30/24)
It should be noted that the appointment of Simone, who recently termed out after 10 years of service on the Conservation Commission, was an unusual step by the selectmen. Typically, appointments are made by the selectmen after candidates have applied through one of the Town Committees (Republican or Democratic).
In light of Simone’s considerable experience serving the Town, Vanderslice brought a motion to approve his appointment to the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) without going through the usual application process.
Given the difficulty of filling numerous positions on Wilton’s various boards and commissions, Vanderslice is advocating for “an additional pathway” to approve candidates if they are recommended by a member of the Board of Selectmen, in the same manner that she made the motion for the BOS to consider Simone for the vacant IWC position.
While the selectmen seemed to agree conceptually with Vanderslice’s goal of providing another avenue in which to find candidates, at least one of the selectmen, Bas Nabulsi, felt the board ought to have some clearer guidelines or policies for appointments made using the new pathway. Vanderslice agreed to draft some language to address that.
[Editor’s Note: This story was updated with Lynne Vanderslice’s comment about the number of potential new housing units and to clarify she was referring to thousands, not “hundreds” of units.]