Credit: PicCollage

The FY2024 budget process may be drawing to a conclusion, but the issue of housing continues to be a perennial hot button in town.

Wilton’s Housing Committee wants more residents engaged on the issue and is inviting residents to a panel discussion later this month (Thurs., May 18) featuring several panelists knowledgeable on the topic from a local, regional and state perspective. The free event is co-hosted by the Wilton Library. Details can be found on the Library’s website.

Housing Committee Chair Steve Parrinello told GMW there are challenges the Committee is working to address.

“If you look at a town like Wilton, getting to 10% [affordable housing] threshold is extraordinarily difficult,” Parrinello said.

He was referring to the fact that a municipality with less than 10% of its housing considered affordable faces the possibility of developers invoking the 8-30g affordable housing statute to bypass local planning and zoning regulations.

“It’s important to get community involvement,” Parrinello said.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice agrees. She has been closely monitoring the current state legislative session for any housing-related proposals that might move forward, urging residents to understand them and offer testimony. She has prioritized housing — including affordable housing but more broadly the need for diversified housing stock — as a critical issue for Wilton, with potentially significant changes on the horizon. She has also attended nearly all of Wilton’s Housing Committee meetings since last fall.

The Legislation

Vanderslice’s most recent update to residents focused on the following proposals:

  • Bill 6890, also known as DesegregateCT’s “Work Live Ride” bill, has advanced out of the Planning and Development Committee. Under this bill, municipalities that opt-in and create a transit-oriented district (TOD) meeting density and affordability requirements would become eligible for state funding for planning, infrastructure upgrades, and construction. Municipalities that opt-out would become ineligible to receive certain discretionary grants related to brownfield remediation, revitalization, and other TOD programs.
  • A similar TOD bill, SB1141, would establish as-of-right development within a half-mile radius of Wilton’s two train stations, with an overall density of 15 units per acre where there is sewer and water access. 
  • Bill 985 would give incentives that encourage development to municipalities to create a “housing growth zone” of “middle housing” with some affordability requirements. Under the bill, the application process for developers would not only bypass Wilton’s Planning and Zoning (P&Z), Inland Wetlands, and other town boards and commissions, it would fall under the purview of Wilton’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) — something Vanderslice has called “inexplicable”.

    “ZBA members are ill-equipped to handle these types of applications, plus Wilton’s elected ZBA has been plagued with vacancies. It is inexplicable why this bill provides ZBA with this authority,” Vanderslice wrote in her April update.
  • Bill 6633, known as the “fair share” proposal, has also been raised. It would require Wilton to adopt a plan to develop its “fair share” of affordable housing as determined by the state’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM). Wilton would have 10 years to meet its allocation — which Vanderslice expects to be roughly 1,000 units. If private developers have not done so, the Town would be responsible for developing the housing at its own expense.

Parrinello offered a reminder that while there seems to be momentum behind legislative efforts, Wilton already has plenty of strategic questions to answer about diversifying the housing stock.

“This [legislation] is all theoretical. None of these [proposals] has passed,” Parrinello said. “The charge of the committee is both affordable [housing] and housing diversity.”

He elaborated on what just a few of those strategic questions might be.

“Is there a way for us to have something different than just having two-acre zoning and apartment buildings? What else can we have? What else would be interesting to the town? Is it townhouses… smaller lots?” 

“Looking across new developments that are proposed, what [is] the diversity of unit mix? Usually when you see new apartment buildings, a high percentage are one-bedroom. That’s for a reason — usually the most profitable for the developers. But should we as a town be thinking more [about] what is the appropriate unit mix that could fill a gap and make more diverse housing stock?”

12 Godfrey: A Case in Point

An application for a four-story, 32-unit housing development at 12 Godfrey Pl. in Wilton Center is illustrative of the practical challenges Wilton faces when dealing with applications for multifamily housing, and how easily 8-30g can come into play.

In January — before the original application was withdrawn and later re-submitted under the 8-30g statute — the Housing Committee was leaning in favor of the project.

But the Planning and Zoning Commission has the authority on such applications, and was not willing to allow the zoning change the applicant had proposed, at least until a new zoning overlay envisioned by the Town’s ongoing master planning process for Wilton Center is adopted.

The initial 12 Godfrey Pl. application essentially would have rewritten Wilton’s zoning regulations to allow larger, taller buildings (up to 56 units per acre, on any parcels greater than half an acre) across all of Wilton Center. 

Much to the chagrin of the Architectural Review Board and P&Z, the revised 8-30g application added a fifth floor and 10 more units to the plans and eliminated some of the more upscale design elements.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for tonight, May 9. An agenda may be found on the Town website.

New St. Update

The Housing Committee, in conjunction with Director of Planning and Land Use Management Michael Wrinn, continues to explore converting Town-owned property on New St. for affordable housing.

Engineering studies are in progress, to assess issues like water and septic capacity, which are expected to be key factors that will determine how many units and bedrooms are feasible. Currently, the property does not have public water or sewer.

Residents Invited to Learn and Discuss

The Housing Committee hopes residents will take advantage of the opportunity to learn and offer input at the May 18 panel discussion.

In addition to Parrinello, Vanderslice and Wrinn, the May 18 panel will include WestCOG Executive Director Francis Pickering and Wilton resident Scott Lawrence, former chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the POCD Committee.

Topics of discussion will include Wilton’s housing objectives outlined in the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) and an update on efforts to address housing issues, both locally and regionally. It will also highlight Wilton’s Affordable Housing Plan, adopted in May 2022, and which supports Wilton’s need for more diverse housing.

“The Town of Wilton needs greater diversity in its housing stock in order to retain a valuable older population that wishes to downsize, housing to allow young people to stay in the town they grew up in and varied housing types to attract young families and professionals. The main objective will be to increase the types and availability of multi-family housing and smaller housing units (both rental and ownership) built in places and in a manner consistent with the Wilton 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).”

Details At A Glance

  • “Wilton Talks Housing – Past, Present, and Future”
  • Thurs., May 18, 7:00-8:30 p.m. at Wilton Library, 137 Old Ridgefield Road, Wilton
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration is required

3 replies on “Town Officials Want Community Involvement in Wilton’s Next ‘Hot-Button’ Topic — Housing Diversity”

  1. I continue to feel like Route 7 can be given over to higher density without compromising much of Wilton’s ‘historical character’; there’s still a tremendous amount of land along there now that’s not particularly attractive and not a particularly efficient use of space. Maybe apartment complex after apartment complex isn’t exactly the most *interesting* use for the space, but it’s what the town needs, and if we’re going to be expected one way or another to build a bunch of cheaper housing anyway, then that seems like far and away the most painless approach to doing that.

    (as somebody who’s generally quite willing to jump into fights on here, I would be highly reluctant to get into one about allowing higher density in the 2-acre-zoned parts of town – 1000 variations on the ‘my neighbor wants to build an ugly thing too close to my property line’ battle occurring simultaneously would make even the staunchest housing advocate turn pale)

    1. As long as it satisfies “Work Live Ride” i’m for it. That’s the way to go. We’ll get tons of state funding to improve our town. Win win. Looking forward to the panel!

  2. The proposed bills at the state level are simply Trojan horses to begin deconstructing self-managed communities in favor of what centralized government bureaucracies with little interest in places like Wilton dictate is best. The P&Z Commission is right to advocate for the town as best it can.

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