With multiple major projects coming down the pike, the Greater Wilton Center Area Master Plan Subcommittee has agreed to redouble its efforts to finish up the project, which has been in the works since December 2021. In these final steps, the subcommittee will submit changes and feedback to the master plan consultants BFJ Planning, after which the draft proposal and associated zoning changes will be presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission and opened for public comment.
“We are scheduling weekly meetings, from now until it’s done,” said Rick Tomasetti, Chair of P&Z and the subcommittee, as he opened the meeting on Wednesday, Apr. 12. “Whatever it takes until we’re complete. We can no longer delay getting the master plan done; there’s too many applicants out there.”
Growing Impatience from Applicants
At the Nov. 28 P&Z meeting, Liz Suchy, attorney for the project to redevelop 12 Godfrey Pl. into a multi-family residential complex of 1-3 bedroom apartments, said of the master plan timeline, “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.” Last month, seeming to grow weary of waiting, the developer withdrew the initial plans and resubmitted the project as an 8-30g affordable housing proposal, which comes with the right to override local zoning rules.
Additional projects loom as well. Last month, the subcommittee held a special meeting with executives from Kimco, the largest property owner in Wilton Center, to receive feedback on the latest draft of the proposed zoning changes. The company is seeking to raze the existing structure at 21 River Rd. and construct a 160-unit multi-family residential complex on that site and a portion of the existing parking lot.
While making the case for a large lot subdistrict with more flexible zoning, Kimco Vice President of Development Nick Brown pushed for answers about when the master plan would be completed. Tomasetti had conceded that the project was “definitely behind” but assured Brown that the conclusion was near. Like Suchy, Brown too had expressed concern in November that the final proposal might be as far as six months out, an outcome that now seems inevitable.
“We had this discussion about you being near the finish line,” he said at the Commission’s Nov. 14 meeting. “We’re not worried about waiting two or three months while you’re finishing the [master plan]. But does it linger to six months? Nine months?” He added later in the evening, “We’re trying to be patient and listen, but we also have pretty important financial decisions to make.”
Apr. 12: Getting Down to Work — Civic Spaces and Fifth Floors
Against this backdrop, the subcommittee reconvened on Wednesday, Apr. 12 for the first in the new schedule of weekly gatherings. Over the course of nearly three hours, the group discussed Kimco’s suggestion of zoning exemptions for large lots like its Wilton Center Campus, as well as broader decisions about the form-based code proposed for the broader downtown village.
After coming to a general agreement that a special design district for any lots above a certain size in Wilton Center would be preferable to creating dedicated zoning rules just for Kimco, the subcommittee debated a series of specific questions that remain open.
On the topic of civic space, one of the key public amenities that the new form-based zoning will seek to incentivize, the group hammered out a few details. In response to Kimco’s request at last month’s meeting that small “vest-pocket” parks like those it may create within some of its parking lots be counted towards the site’s civic space requirements, Subcommittee Member Barbara Geddis spoke up.
“A civic space is not a strip with green with a bench,” she said. “It’s a place of meeting or community.”
Subcommittee Member Sam Gardner, also Vice Chair of the Architectural Review Board and Village District Design Advisory Committee, called for setting specific square footage requirements for provided civic space. The group agreed to explore an appropriate target ratio and also determined not to offer an option for property owners to pay a fee to sidestep this requirement.
After a lengthy discussion about height limits for buildings in Wilton Center, the subcommittee reiterated an earlier tenet that properties that choose to build to a fifth story must use the space for a public amenity of some kind, not simply an additional floor of residential units.
Apr. 19: Discussion Continues — Alleys and Outdoor Dining
The debate about building height continued at this week’s meeting, with a focus on interior alleys like those that run through the Kimco property and around Aranci 67. Although the subcommittee members agreed with Geddis’ position that “an alley is a street,” there was confusion about how and whether to mandate street frontage and height limits along these passageways.
Gardner called the matter, “a conundrum for the consultants to unknot,” and the group agreed to send the matter to BFJ for suggestions. Geddis reiterated an earlier suggestion of requiring applicants to submit full 3D built-out models for a proposed development.
In a final note on the Wilton Center form-based code, P&Z Commissioner and Subcommittee Member Chris Pagliaro called for requiring dedicated space for outdoor dining for restaurants, referencing the success of the Corbin District in Darien.
Moving onto the zoning overlay along Danbury Rd., the subcommittee reviewed the latest draft proposal by BFJ. The current language now includes a special incentive for preserving historic structures that allows up to four residential units to be created within a restored structure. Another addition concerns the area immediately surrounding the Wilton Train Station, which the draft plan targets as a spot to promote transit-oriented, multi-family development with up to 50 apartments per acre and 1.2 parking spaces per unit.
The next meeting of the Greater Wilton Center Area Master Plan Subcommittee is scheduled for Wednesday, Apr. 26.