Credit: Town of Wilton Zoom recording (Sept. 6, 2023)

Last night’s (Sept. 6) Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting revealed the board is doing due diligence before taking action on two important matters:

  • choosing a contractor from among seven competitive bids received for the new police headquarters, ranging in price from just under $15 million to nearly $19 million
  • considering the impact of broadening the Town’s liquor ordinance to allow craft breweries

Police Headquarters Construction Bids 

The resolution to construct the new police headquarters was approved by Wilton voters at the 2022 Annual Town Meeting, with the intention to bond the estimated $16.4 million cost over subsequent years as the project unfolds.

Credit: Town of Wilton (Tecton Architects), Feb. 2, 2022

Now, Town officials are reviewing the seven bids received for the construction.

Chris Burney — the former Wilton DPW Director who is now the project manager for the police station project — attended the BOS meeting and briefed the selectmen on the bid review process.

His main concern focused on the lowest bid, which came in just under $15 million.

Burney said he had spent roughly eight weeks seeking feedback and checking references about the contractor.

“There was a general consensus this potentially was a problem contractor,” Burney said, with the risk of numerous change orders and delays.

The contractor’s litigation history was also a significant concern.

Attorney Doug LoMonte reported the due diligence performed by law firm Bercham Moses included a litigation search that identified six lawsuits the contractor had filed in recent years against a municipality.

“It’s customary for a municipality to award a construction contract to the lowest qualified, responsive and responsible bidder,” LoMonte said. However, he went on to say the Town could and should consider “negative indications,” including poor references and a pattern of litigation, among other criteria for awarding such a significant contract.

Selectman Josh Cole felt he had heard enough negative indications and made a motion to disqualify the low bidder. The board voted unanimously in favor of the motion. (Note: Selectman Bas Nabulsi was not in attendance.)

LoMonte suggested it would be customary to give the bidder written notice of the motion and the opportunity to respond to the Town’s concerns. Vanderslice authorized LoMonte to send the notice as advised.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice expressed concern for the overall budget, but said “we need a firm price.”

“I was there for the opening bids. They came in higher than we had hoped,” Vanderslice said. “What concerned me immediately [about] Chris [Burney]’s findings is this question of change orders. We can’t afford to have a lot of change orders. We need a firm price and a contractor we feel comfortable is going to stay within that firm price.”

No further action was taken on the selection of a bid.

Brewery Ordinance Change

Nicholas Bamonte, another Bercham Moses attorney who provides town counsel, also appeared at the meeting to discuss a town ordinance change the selectmen may consider to allow craft breweries, including the sale of alcoholic beverages by a holder of the state-issued manufacturing permit for beer.

The selectmen first discussed the topic at their Aug. 17 meeting, after receiving a letter from the owners of Twelve Gods Brewery seeking the change in Wilton’s liquor ordinance. 

Though Bamonte noted the selectmen would have the authority to make an ordinance change in most instances, he recommended referring the question to a Town Meeting for voter approval rather than proceeding under the board’s authority.

After some discussion, Vanderslice revealed she was surprised at the recommendation, noting the proposed ordinance change would not have “far-reaching” impact on residents. However, she was inclined to defer to the advice of town counsel, recognizing it would eliminate the risk of a potential legal challenge if the BOS were to act on its own volition.

The board is also taking the opportunity to seek further clarity on the the distinction between breweries serving alcohol without food and bars — which Wilton currently does not allow.

At least one selectman — Ross Tartell — inquired about hard cider manufacturers, and whether the board should consider an ordinance change beyond strictly beer breweries. Wilton resident Farah Masani, who identified herself as an artisanal cider producer, also urged the board to consider broadening the ordinance, citing similarities in state permitting for wine, cider and mead compared to beer, in contrast to distilled spirits.

[Editor’s note: Masani is a DTC-endorsed candidate running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen in the upcoming municipal election in November. Tartell, also DTC endorsed, is running for re-election.]

“We’ll have to get more information,” Vanderslice said. “We have to make sure we understand, if you pass this… if you start adding other things, are we now allowing bars?” Vanderslice pondered.

Bamonte will report back to the BOS with additional research on the nuances of an ordinance change.

Vanderslice thought a special Town Meeting in January could resolve the matter for breweries, with potential further ordinance changes at the Annual Town Meeting in May.

More BOS News

  • The board also discussed a possible new ordinance that would allow a property tax credit on certain motor vehicles. Specifically, Wilton will consider exempting vehicles adapted for use by a person with disabilities or to accommodate their transportation, whether owned privately or by a non-profit. Bamonte will provide draft language for the proposed ordinance to the selectmen for their consideration at a future meeting.
  • After interviewing the candidates in confidential executive session, the BOS voted unanimously to appoint Alex Gorski to the Conservation Commission and George Tsapelas to the Housing Committee.
  • Vanderslice reported that Housing Committee member (and former chair) John Kelly has resigned. “[He] was our very first member of the Housing Committee… thank you so much to John. He really got this committee off the ground. We really appreciate all he did,” she said.
  • Town Administrator Matt Knickerbocker asked the selectmen to approve a bid for a budgeted replacement of 23 windows at Wilton’s Fire Station #2, located at 707 Ridgefield Rd. The cost of the window replacement, including labor and materials, is $27,400 — the lowest of three bids received. The board unanimously approved the bid.