After alluding to the project in several meetings this fall, the Planning & Zoning Commission at last heard a formal application for the new multi-family complex proposed for 12 Godfrey Pl. during the Commission’s Monday, Nov. 28 meeting. Known as Wilton Center Lofts, the project was the subject of a pre-application hearing with P&Z held last April. During that discussion, the Commissioners praised the building’s architecture but flagged concerns that its design, especially at the street level, might not fit with the goals already being laid out as part of the Greater Wilton Center Area Master Plan. These same themes once again came into play on Monday night.
Wilton Center Lofts Proposal Collides with Master Plan Timeline
The proposal for 12 Godfrey Pl. envisions demolishing an existing but vacant three-story office tower and redeveloping the 0.62 acre site as a four-story multi-family residential complex, with 32 apartments ranging in size from one to three bedrooms. Doing so would require changing town zoning regulations, including a text amendment creating a “Wilton Center Transit Oriented District Zone,” which would apply to all lots over half an acre within a half mile of the Wilton train station.
Presenting on behalf of Wilton Center Lofts, LLC, attorney Liz Suchy outlined a series of goals in the Plan of Conservation and Development (2019) that the applicant believes the project would serve, including creating more diverse housing stock and adding more residential uses to Wilton Center proper.
She concluded the presentation by saying, “We have to start somewhere and I think this is the place to start. Take a chance on a project that has been well thought out and carefully designed. It will bring critical mass to the downtown in a thoughtful way and add four units of affordable housing to Wilton’s housing stock.”
The final note proved to be slightly more complicated than presented. As Commissioner Eric Fanwick would later point out, the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG) submitted a letter to P&Z clarifying that the affordable units laid out in the proposal would not count towards Wilton’s affordable housing goals under 8-30g legislation. In the current proposal, the affordability targets for the units are currently based on Wilton’s median income, not the state median income that is required by Connecticut law. Suchy said that the applicant would adjust the affordability targets accordingly.
The general direction of the changes being requested — allowing greater density and height while reducing the number of required parking spaces — did not seem particularly objectionable to the Commission. However, several commissioners echoed earlier reservations about how the proposed text amendment would fit with plans to overhaul Wilton Center’s regulations more broadly in response to the master plan.
“My concern is the following: We are on the precipice of completing our master plan, which will change our regulations, and you are asking us to change our regs in advance of that,” Chair Rick Tomasetti explained. “It is not clear that the regulation changes you’re asking for will be in compliance with what we’re looking to do with our master plan.”
Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini would later express similar reservations, adding that Wilton already has what she called, ‘a patchwork of regulations.’ “The way we’re leaning in the master plan is to try to get a little bit of continuity,” she said. “I’m concerned about continuing the patchwork.”
Suchy responded, “I would recommend to you that this is an application that is submitted to you with the regulations in place today and it should proceed as any other application presented to you. In order to do anything [after the completion of the master plan], we would have to wait an amount of time that no one knows what that is — two weeks is one thing, six months is a whole other ballgame. I’m not trying to be cute or condescending, but we need to move this ahead.”
After describing architectural differences between the design being presented and what Wilton’s new form-based zoning would encourage, Tomasetti added, “I have other concerns about outdoor amenities and how we develop along this streetscape, which is not part of your plan but is what we’re trying to do in the master plan. Those are bigger issues that need to be solidified here. I guess we could try to push you in that direction but I’m not clear how we do that right now.”
Suchy then spoke to the initial pre-application hearing in April, saying that although those discussions were non-binding, the team took cues from what was said by the Commission in the conversation. However, the issue of the master plan timeline and a disconnect about the role of public amenities in the design were topics in that initial conversation as well.
At that hearing, Commissioner Chris Pagliaro had said to Suchy and the applicant, “In our initial meetings for the master plan, we’ve been talking about how to unlock the village beyond the main road. This intersection plays into that quite a bit to be honest. My hesitation is while the project offers some things that are very attractive for Wilton and very needed, it’s turning its back on the idea of a public component to the site.”
By the meeting’s end, both sides indicated an eagerness to bring the proposal closer to the expected outcomes of the master plan process.
“If this was the beginning of the process, I’d be like, well okay — but we’re so close to the end,” Tomasetti explained. “I don’t want to short circuit that process. But there are potentially ways we can work together and I think what we’ll find is we’re pretty much on parallel tracks in terms of timing.”
Town Planner Michael Wrinn said that within the next few weeks, the subcommittee expects to receive from the master plan consultants the details on a proposed form-based zoning code for Wilton Center and the specific regulations to enact it. At his suggestion, the applicant agreed to continue the hearing to P&Z next meeting date, Monday, Dec. 12.
Additional Projects on the Agenda, and Cannabis Discussion
The Commission also dispensed quickly with a series of more minor projects (a request to change a residential lot line at 5 West Wind Ln., alterations to a Verizon flagpole at 50 Danbury Rd., and floorplan revisions for Glengate’s new 47 Old Ridgefield Rd. location), several of which were delegated to be handled by P&Z staff rather than the Commission.
The commissioners had a brief but substantive discussion about Norwalk’s proposed matrix for cannabis businesses, which will begin public hearings shortly. Wilton’s own cannabis regulations have been continued until October 2023, during which time the Commission hopes neighboring towns will have best practices to share on accommodating and regulating the new industry. However, Main Ave. near the border of Wilton is one of two business corridors where Norwalk is considering allowing cannabis retail and manufacturing uses. At the request of Rotini, Wrinn agreed to draft a letter to Norwalk explaining that Wilton is interested in learning more about these uses going in near the town border.
The next meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12, which should include further discussion on the Wilton Center Lofts project, as well as a follow up presentation on the proposed LDS Meeting House at 241 Danbury Rd., first presented on Oct. 24.
The Wilton Center Master Plan Subcommittee is also expected to meet on Tuesday, Dec. 6 to review the new form-based zoning code proposal, with a second meeting to follow later in the month reviewing the proposed regulations themselves.