Vanderslice Op-Ed:  Redevelopment in Wilton — Why, What and How 

Current rendering of proposed Wilton Heights redevelopment project

Wilton is experiencing high interest in redeveloping under or nonperforming commercial properties to multi-family residential. Residents are asking why is this happening, what is being proposed and how can they participate. 

Why are commercial buildings being torn down or retrofitted to build multi-family housing? 

The short answer is demand for multi-family housing is strong, and there is an excess supply of commercial properties — particularly of Fairfield County office buildings, which, as of Sept. 30, had an overall vacancy rate of 32%. That rate was led by Wilton at 50%, Norwalk at 39% and Stamford at 37%. (Source: Cushman & Wakefield). One solution for owners of such buildings is to sell to a developer of multi-family housing. 

Why is Wilton’s office vacancy rate so high? 

Office vacancy rates have been increasing for some time. During this spring, the building at 20 Westport Rd. was reported as fully vacant following the completion of Bridgewater’s relocation to renovated office space in Westport, supported by a State economic development grant, and/or office space in Stamford. That one building accounted for 22% of Wilton’s 50% vacancy rate. Other businesses, such as Deloitte, also relocated to Stamford with State support. Wilton is disadvantaged by the lack of direct train service to NYC and the availability of new office buildings in Stamford versus our more mature buildings. 

Are there more underperforming properties in addition to those being discussed with P&Z? 

Yes. In addition to the 340,000 sq. ft. at 20 Westport Rd., the 46,000 sq. ft. building at 45 Danbury Rd. is vacant due to Beiersdorf’s recent downsizing to Stamford. The Commonfund building at the Wilton train station also has a high vacancy rate. 

The School Sisters of Notre Dame property on Belden Hill Rd., with 200,000 sq. ft. of buildings, is on the market. A number of smaller buildings near the Cannondale train station are underperforming and, given the strong market, could be expected to be developed. 

What is the impact of these properties remaining vacant or nonperforming? 

The impact is two-fold:

  • 20% of Wilton’s grand list is commercial, meaning residents fund only 80% of the town’s budget. Any value declines reflected in the 2022 revaluation will shift the associated tax loss to other taxpayers, including residential taxpayers. 
  • More than 12,000 employees work in Wilton. As businesses move or employees work from home, there are fewer employees to shop, dine and use services in Wilton. 

How is the Town responding to these vacant or underutilized properties? 

Proactively. Director of Land Use Management and Town Planner Michael Wrinn and I regularly meet and work with owners or representatives of underutilized properties, commercial brokers, site selectors and potential developers to recommend and facilitate appropriate redevelopment. The same occurred with Michael’s predecessor. 

The Planning and Zoning Commission and the Architectural Review Board hold pre-application meetings to provide feedback prior to a developer submitting an application. These non-binding meetings allow the Commission members to speak more freely and thereby improve applications. 

The First Selectwoman’s Office, primarily through Community Affairs Coordinator Sarah Gioffre, is focused on making it easier for businesses to access the information they need to open or expand a business by publishing a Guide to Opening or Expanding a Business in Wilton and by an ongoing effort to make land records and permitting and other information fully accessible online. 

Why only apartments? Why not townhomes or less dense development? 

Developers indicate higher density is required to make their projects economically viable based on the high price of developable land and the need to provide affordable units. Market rate units must offset revenue loss associated with affordable units. Last year, Donald Poland provided WestCOG mayors and first selectmen/women with a presentation, Affordable Housing: By the Numbers, which includes financial data and analysis. The slides and the video are available on the WestCOG website. 

How can residents learn more and provide input? 

For Planning and Zoning Commission matters, complete application and pre-application materials and agendas, minutes and meeting videos are easily available on the Town’s website. Residents can sign up to receive notice of activity here. Public comments may be provided during the public hearing period, which typically occurs over several meetings. Instructions are on the meeting’s agenda. The same is available on the Town’s website for the Architectural Review Board and the Inland Wetlands Commission. 

I encourage you to engage. We all have an interest in redevelopment and the expansion of housing options to retain and attract new residents and to support existing and new retail, dining and service businesses. 

Thank you. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. “Wilton is disadvantaged by the lack of direct train service to NYC…” – not true. There are four direct am and four direct PM trains. Please check your facts as thoroughly as you “check” the facts for political endorsement letters.

  2. I am not impressed with the First Selectman’s apparent support of “higher density” (that is, subsidized) housing in Wilton. The developers require high density to make their projects economically viable. Economically viable for whom? Why, for the developers.

    Not viable for the occupants of market rate units, who must pay more to subsidize the below market units. Certainly not viable for Wilton taxpayers – high density housing is appraised and assessed at rates far lower than houses on two acres. Yet these residents obtain the same town services as everyone else. Expenses, particularly education, go up but residents of high density housing pick up most of the tab.

    In summary, the developers profit by these developments and leave the rest of us to pick up the ongoing tab for town services.

    Wilton should be resisting the demands of those who think we need even more “affordable” housing – not encouraging it. Political correctness aside, Wilton should be allowed to remain a beautiful small town, not to morph into a city.

    • Mr. Kaye,
      I’m sorry but Mrs. VAnderslice was correct. Most of Wilton is zoned for 2 acre lots and it is not that land that she is talking about. Properties that are underperforming are commercial property in and or near the town centers. This land is expensive and i know very few people who could afford to move into and live in these properties.
      Higher density allows for more people to live on the same footprint and share the expense of the taxes and the real estate and developers are not going to do this for free not should they. Building higher or denser are the only options.
      As for services, the schools are the main services and I understand that we are currently 7-10 percent under out maximum capacity for schools which also means that we are paying higher costs per student than we should be as there are services that must be maintained and are underutilized.
      I would appreciate a comment back explaining why you put the word Affordable in quotations. I do not understand what you are trying to convey and would appreciate a concise response.
      With great interest,
      Keith Denning

  3. Residents fund “only” 80 percent of the town’s budget? In fact that’s “close to all” of the budget. Surely the many taxpayers who choose to live in Wilton for what remains of its small town character, and who pay so much to maintain it, deserve better than this one-dimensional presentation.

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