At tonight’s meeting (Monday, Jan. 23) of the Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), members will be considering a project that represents the center point of a Venn diagram for where Wilton stands at the moment. Wilton Center Lofts at 12 Godfrey Pl., a proposed 32-unit multi-family building, is the first major development project in Wilton Center with an application that P&Z is actively considering through the lens of what the pending Master Plan might include.
Each time the Wilton Center Lofts’ attorney and architect have appeared in front of the Commission, they’ve heard a similar refrain: “We mostly like what you’ve done, buuuuuuuut… there are master plan elements we expect to be in the new regulations going forward and we’re not sure they’re reflected in the design. But we can’t say for certain because it’s still not finalized — even though we’re really, really close.”
And each time the Lofts’ team replies with a polite version of the same muted threat: “OK, we’ll make the changes you’ve suggested, but how much longer do we have to wait for a finalized version because we still have CT’s 8-30g affordable housing laws that we’ll use if we have to and then we won’t have to wait for you.”
At the Jan. 9 P&Z meeting, it was relatively the same conversation, even though the sides seemed to be getting closer to a compromise. Once again, the applicant presented changes based on feedback P&Z members had given in December:
- relocation of air conditioning units from the side of the building to the roof
- additional camouflage of the ground floor parking to make it less visible or open
- the addition of a bocce court as a publicly-accessible recreation space
- the addition of a public pocket park and multiple benches
The architect also said other esthetic changes, including the removal of a fence and more trees and plantings.
“The idea is that yes, this is open to the public and also for the use of residents of the building. So it’s not exclusive. …The idea is that you could grab a sandwich, come to this pocket park and sit at your leisure or play bocce,” Rich Granoff, the architect, said, adding that the public spaces were “small gestures” for the public.
Granoff spoke directly to the issue of where the proposed project intersected with the Wilton Center Master Plan.
“We feel strongly that we have definitely addressed a bunch of your concerns, especially related to public space. We also have been following your Master Plan meetings carefully and discussing them afterward. And we feel stronger than ever that this is going in the direction of what that Master Plan wants Wilton Center to be. And we feel just as strongly as we did before, that this project would be not only an asset to Wilton Center but would help the public see … the positive effect [the Master Plan will] have on downtown,” he said.
Once again, Granoff said if P&Z still wasn’t ready to move forward, in the applicant’s back pocket was the option to pursue using 8-30g legislation, which effectively allows developers to sidestep local zoning in towns like Wilton where less than 10% of residential units are considered affordable. He added that it wasn’t “in our best interest to be waiting a long time.”
“We’ve done a study to do an 8-30g here. It’s basically this exact same building with one floor added to it. We actually think it looks good and meets with the five-story aspect of the proposed Master Plan,” he said, adding, “Economically, it is neutral to the development team to add a story and go 8-30g.”
Attorney Liz Suchy pointed out that, based on the preliminary Master Plan draft documents online, there are elements of the Wilton Center Lofts proposal that align with what town officials want.
“First of all, there are ideas about this commission granting modifications to facilitate good design and accommodate site-specific conditions, including such things as perhaps including waivers and variances of street standards and other items that may be part of your overall master plan once you adopt it,” Suchy said, adding that she hoped the P&Z commissioners would “see it in [their] wisdom” to move forward.
She ended by saying the proposed building is “very close to what you’re looking to achieve in the downtown Wilton area,” and that it would bring people and activity to the town center as well as “move Wilton to the 21st century.”
Several of the commissioners indicated they approved of the building’s design and commented on how attractive and well-thought-out it is. Commissioner Chris Pagliaro summed up the decision the commission faced.
“This comes down to, I think, whether or not this commission has the wherewithal to accept going through the [zoning] text amendments [proposed by the applicant] or not before we go through codification of the Master Plan,” Pagliaro said.
Suchy pointed out that there might be some wiggle room to consider.
“There’s also the component to the draft regs that is contemplating some flexibility be given to this commission to make adjustments when strict compliance, for whatever reason, is either not attainable or strict compliance would result in a building that’s not as desirable… Some of your neighboring communities also incorporate that degree of flexibility or relief. … that comes into play too,” she said.
Commission Chair Rick Tomasetti said while he understood that, “We don’t even have a baseline.”
After some discussion about whether the language in the applicant’s proposed zoning text change needed to be adjusted in anticipation of what might or might not be in the Master Plan, the commissioners asked the applicant to prepare a side-by-side comparison of where the Lofts proposal complies — or doesn’t comply — with the current draft of the Wilton Center Master Plan online.
The applicant agreed to one more two-week extension to prepare that analysis and come back for the reaction from the public and commissioners on Jan. 23. With that analysis already posted on the town website, it just awaits the commissioners’ review.
But one member of the public did add his support even before the Jan. 9 discussion ended.
“I am strongly in favor of this proposed development,” resident Adam Schnitzer said. It would be a great addition to Wilton Center, and I would love to see this type of development in Wilton Center, making it more walkable, more stuff going on. And I would certainly hope that this type of development would be covered in the proposed Master Plan.”
Watch tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Zoom, starting at 7 p.m.