Town Committees Draft Priorities for Wilton Center and Master Plan

Last week, the Historic Districts and Historic Properties Commission (HDPC) and Architectural Review Board/Village District Design Advisory Committee (ARB/VDDAC) each met to discuss their draft priorities for the Wilton master plan. These discussions took place ahead of a joint meeting scheduled for Thursday, Mar. 10 in which the groups will meet with the Planning and Zoning Commission subcommittee overseeing the Master Planning process, and BFJ Planning, the firm selected to produce that plan.

The HDPC is a commission charged with preserving the distinct character and landscape of the town and protecting the architectural and historic significance of the districts. The ARB/VDDAC is an advisory committee of the Planning and Zoning Commission charged with providing expert architectural guidance to applicants and design recommendations.

While several topics were mentioned in both meetings, the two groups brought distinctly different approaches to the selection of priorities, with ARB/VDDAC focusing on the changes they wished to see in the area and HDPC members focusing on existing elements that they hope would be preserved.

Historic Districts and Properties Commission

HDPC Chair Allison Sanders opened the meeting by explaining that the group had already been in touch with Town Planner Michael Wrinn about the role that the so-called Harriman Report can play in the master plan process. Officially titled Historic Preservation Tools for Commercial Buildings, the report was released in March 2020 and offered recommendations for encouraging and incentivizing adaptive reuse (the repurposing older buildings for new uses). Sanders noted that the recent project dubbed Sharp Hill Square at 200 Danbury Rd. is an example of a success story, wherein the developer agreed to restore the historic Raymond Morehouse House as part of a project to construct retail, offices and 24 residential units on the site.

Kicking off the exchange of ideas, Commission member Lori Fusco stressed the need to ensure that new construction conforms to the size and scale of existing buildings in Wilton Center. “Keep it quaint,” she said.

Commission member Jeffrey Bendremer agreed. “I really like downtown — the quaint part of it.” As for his own priorities, he mentioned that he “couldn’t think of anything too specific other than worrying about what they might get rid of.”

Commission member Pamela Brown shared a list of priorities she had developed herself, which included: harmonious architecture, connectedness, walkability, and ample parking.

Sanders added that the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) itself expressed strong support for historic preservation and she hoped that element of the POCD would help inform the master plan process. She also seemed to echo Brown’s comments, calling for an emphasis on “sense of plan” and appropriate scale for new buildings.

Vice Chair Lisa Pojano shared a preliminary list of consolidated priorities, which was well received by the group. These included:

  • Emphasis on the POCD findings
  • Cultivation of a “sense of place” with elements like landscaping, streetscape beautification, and harmonious design
  • Preservation of historic resources, such as historic properties identified in the study area and nearby archaeological ruins
  • Ordinances to encourage appropriate scale
  • Financial incentives for adaptive reuse

The group agreed to finalize this list in preparation for Thursday’s meeting with P&Z and BFJ. Sanders and Pojano agreed to present on behalf of the group.

Architectural Review Board/Village District Design Advisory Committee

Chair Rob Sanders began this portion of the meeting by reading a list of priorities sent by Committee member Laura Noble Perese, who had a scheduling conflict. In her note, Perese suggested that the group’s feedback emphasize the following:

  • Adaptive use of historic places
  • Bus and public transport shelters
  • Pedestrian-prioritized orientation/bike lane
  • Pollinator pathway
  • Color standards and style guidelines for new builds
  • Public art and murals
  • National Geographic’s Blue Zone Guidelines

Like HDPC, Perese also called for incentivizing adaptive reuse, in addition to adding bus shelters, promoting the pollinator pathway, installing public art, and other ideas.

The topic of parallel parking, also brought up during last week’s P&Z subcommittee meeting, was also discussed at length. Committee member Kevin Quinlan noted, “All of the towns with grand boulevards — New Canaan, Ridgefield, Westport — they all have parallel parking. We don’t have enough room on River Rd.”

Sanders shared an idea being explored to create more of a one-way loop through Wilton Center, whereby the opposite-direction lanes could be converted into parallel parking. The group then discussed property rights throughout the Center and the complications those boundaries create for coordinated traffic planning.

Quinlan pointed to an element of the VDDAC’s own guidelines that could be reconsidered. “Our guidelines talk about a ‘New England village’ aesthetic. Do we want to keep clinging to that? Stamford is a glass city, Fairfield is a mixture of brick and clapboard, Westport is a lot of brick, and New Canaan is a lot of clapboard. What is even is the New England Village-style?”

The group agreed to submit their individual lists to Sanders to be consolidated in advance of Thursday’s meeting. He will present on behalf of the group.

Looking Ahead

This Thursday, Mar. 10, BFJ and the P&Z master plan subcommittee will convene with HDPC and ARB/VDDAC for a joint meeting, ahead of the public workshop on Thursday, Mar. 31.