On Wednesday, Mar. 23, the Historic District and Historic Properties Commission (HDPC) held a special meeting to discuss the proposed extension of a sewer line from Danbury Rd. to 19 Cannon Rd. The HDPC was one of several town boards asked by Planning and Zoning to weigh in on the sewer proposal as P&Z considers whether or not to support the project. The impact of P&Z’s decision could be substantial — the extension would lay the infrastructure for a significantly larger development than is currently allowed on the site.

For the HDPC, the scope of considering the topic itself was quite narrow:  evaluate how the proposed sewer could impact the Cannondale district — a part of Wilton that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1992 — and make a recommendation to P&Z.

From the start, the tone of the meeting was one of resounding skepticism, as the commissioners echoed many of the concerns voiced by the Planning and Zoning Commission last week during its initial review of the proposal.

Project Background

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The sewer extension proposal, an 8-24 referral currently being considered by P&Z, would lay the infrastructure for a 3.5-story, 70-unit development developed by Baywing, LLC that is currently in the pre-application stage. If it moves forward, the developer plans to invoke 8-30g, Connecticut’s affordable housing law, which effectively allows developers to sidestep local zoning if a project includes affordable housing units in a town where less than 10% of available housing options are considered affordable.

P&Z is required to submit a report to the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) by Apr. 1, either approving or rejecting the proposal. HDPC’s statement is one of several opinions from Wilton town entities and residents that P&Z will review to make a decision.

Discussion and Decision

Having reviewed a draft statement prepared by Chair Allison Sanders, the commissioners discussed the merits of the sewer extension and debated whether to reference the proposed development that the extension intends to serve.

Commissioner Gilbert Weatherly spoke first and did not mince words. “This project is a Trojan Horse that threatens the future of Cannondale. There is no way that this sewer line should be approved.”

Peter Gaboriault, an alternate on the Commission, reiterated concerns expressed by several P&Z commissioners that a decision about a sewer extension should come only after the town has completed its master planning process for Cannondale.

“This is a prime spot to do something good in Cannondale,” he said. “I was the chair of the Economic Development Committee for years. Every year we said, we need a plan for Cannondale, we need a plan for Cannondale. We can’t be doing this piecemeal according to whatever developers want to do.

Commissioner Lori Fusco agreed: “It just seems completely premature. So much effort has been made in developing the Plan of Conservation and Development and the Harriman report. All of these tools are leading us towards a master plan for the Cannondale District.”

Sanders’ draft statement hit many of the same points, reading in part, “If P&Z chooses to support the 8-24 request, then planning options that would have been available to the town will have been forestalled. Possibilities will have been pre-empted, and the intent of the POCD will be thwarted.” The letter urges P&Z to advise the WPCA to deny the sanitary sewer extension, calling the proposal “impossible to justify.”

Alice Schroeder, an alternate on the Commission, praised Sanders’ draft, adding, “If you approve the sewer before the master plan, it would be an irrevocable decision that would preordain what will happen on that site.”

She also alluded to a broader legal challenge that nearby homeowners could pursue in the event that the sewer line is extended and the development moves forward. “At some point, this law [8-30g] will be tested under the takings clause as an unreasonable use, a violation of federal law,” she said. “These developers are possibly ideal candidates to bear the cost of testing that law.”

As for the question of whether HDPC’s statement should reference the development ultimately planned for the site, Gaboriault argued for omitting any mention of the development at all, to avoid being “perceived as opposing the affordable housing project.” In contrast, Weatherly urged the Commission to directly reference the scale of the development and the threat that it poses to the Cannondale District.

Ultimately, the commissioners voted unanimously to authorize Sanders to make whatever revisions she felt were appropriate based on comments shared that evening, and to then issue the statement.

Editor’s note: the letter from Allison Sanders to the Planning & Zoning Commission is embedded at the end of the article.

Next Steps

HDPC will submit the statement ahead of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s next regular meeting, scheduled for Monday, March 28, when P&Z is expected to continue its discussion and open a public hearing on the topic. Several letters of opposition have been submitted and are available online:

A final decision will need to be delivered to WPCA by the end of next week. In the event that P&Z fails to submit a report, the proposal will be presumed approved. If P&Z decides to issue a report disapproving of the proposal, the project can only go forward with a two-thirds override vote from the town legislature or public town meeting.

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