Credit: PicCollage

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice is touting the latest developments in Wilton’s identity as a healthcare hub.

Her April update to residents highlighted information about 372 Danbury Rd., occupied by Stamford Health, which is seeking to convert more office space to medical space, and to expand parking at the adjacent 378-380 Danbury Rd.

From Hartford Healthcare‘s expanded presence at 50-60 Danbury Rd. to Progressive Diagnostics‘ plans to open at Sharp Hill Square, Wilton’s array of medical facilities along or near Danbury Rd. is growing, including names like Yale New Haven, Nuvance, ONS, HSS, Soundview Medical, and more.

“Danbury Road has certainly become the medical corridor we envisioned back in 2015/2016,” Vanderslice wrote in her update.

GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Vanderslice with questions about the medical corridor.

What Was Envisioned?

Vanderslice credited efforts by members of the Economic Development Commission (EDC) and Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) among other Town officials who saw the potential several years ago.

Vanderslice said the Town’s approvals for the redevelopment of 249 Danbury Rd. (the Wilton Wellness Center, which was completed in 2018) and 211 Danbury Rd. (Sunrise Senior Living) were the early milestones in the vision for a medical corridor.

“This could be the start of something,” Vanderslice said she realized at the time. “The [office] vacancies were really starting… and here we were halfway between Norwalk Hospital and Danbury Hospital.”

“[Healthcare brands like Hartford Healthcare, Yale and others] were all expanding, but [Wilton] was a perfect central location for that to happen,” Vanderslice continued. “[Wilton] is a great spot.”

Wilton’s 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) did not call for a “medical corridor” per se, but it highlighted the commercial opportunity created by Wilton’s unique location and the Danbury Rd. thoroughfare.

“Danbury Road is the central artery of the community… Over the next 10 years, the Town seeks to develop the corridor with a diverse mix of uses with the highest intensity uses in the southern portion of the corridor.”

The POCD further identified an economic development goal to “enhance the strength and diversity of the local economy and its connections to the region” through branding Wilton as a preferred location for businesses in “targeted clusters” — including healthcare, among others.

Vanderslice said the Town’s economic development efforts made it clear to commercial developers and building owners that Wilton welcomed development, especially when it came to medical uses.

“That was a big part of when I first came into office, trying to get that message out there,” Vanderslice said. “It’s evident that the message is out there.” 

“We all knew what was happening in commercial office buildings,” Vanderslice continued. “We knew that things needed to change [and] to encourage what is happening now, which is the commercial office space is being converted to medical or it’s being converted to residential [use].”

Camille Carriero, Executive Director of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, also believes a medical corridor makes sense in Wilton.

“Wilton’s location is a great advantage for satellite offices for the medical professionals from Norwalk, Stamford, and Danbury hospitals,” she wrote in an email exchange with GMW.

Peter Denious, CEO of AdvanceCT — a nonprofit that works in collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development to attract and retain businesses throughout the state — called the growing medical corridor “a real victory” for Wilton.

“The commercial real estate market is in a massive transition given work-from-home trends. It’s a real victory when commercial office space can be repurposed to attract new tenants,” Denious wrote in an email to GMW. “Wilton should be applauded for finding creative ways to grow its Grand List.”

“We Just Felt Welcome”

Sean McDonnell, who was involved in the Wilton Wellness Center project as a principal at commercial real estate firm Avison Young, emphasized Wilton’s ideal location for medical tenants.

“Basically all the conduits come right into this area [from Ridgefield, Danbury, Weston, New Canaan, Westport and Norwalk]. Being able to get here and access this without getting on I-95 or the Merritt Parkway… it makes Wilton a really essential location,” McDonnell said.

In the EDC’s It’s Working in Wilton promotional video, McDonnell praised Town officials for their efforts to attract projects like the Wilton Wellness Center.

“The investment is significant. To get developers and their investors to come on board and invest in a town where they don’t have the history, it meant a tremendous amount that the administration of Wilton embraced them, embraced the project, gave us advice, helped us navigate through the channels,” McDonnell said. “The hearings that we had, the zoning meetings that we had, were well received… every single meeting we had, we just felt welcome.”

Leading Wilton’s Job Growth

Healthcare jobs are prominent among the top five employment sectors in Wilton.

According to CT Data Collaborative, which collects data from the Connecticut Department of Labor, from 2019 to 2021, the number of Wilton jobs in the healthcare sector increased by 10% — more than any other top sector. (Note: recent hiring by ASML is not reflected in the latest data.)

Credit: CT Data Collaborative

Although Finance and Insurance is still a key sector in Wilton, jobs in that category declined during the same time period.

“Benefits All Around” For Residents, Local Employees, and the Town

“Having high-quality medical care and services within our community is very beneficial for our residents,” the Chamber’s Carierro noted.

Vanderslice also emphasized that point.

“There are so many [medical] services you can get in town, within Wilton,” Vanderslice said. “It’s so hard to travel now on the Merritt or 95. You don’t have to go down to Stamford for medical care. What a difference that is.”

But Vanderslice said the medical corridor’s benefits go beyond convenience for residents.

“It makes Wilton more attractive not only to residents but also more attractive to businesses. It’s just so much more convenient for an employee to have a medical appointment if it’s right there in the town in which they work. It’s like an amenity in a way, to be able to have your healthcare so close by.”

“We had vacant office space that needed to be transformed into something else,” Vanderslice said. “A medical building that’s full is going to pay more property taxes than an empty commercial building. There’s just those benefits all around.”

“It’s huge for us,” she said.

Balancing Land Uses

While Vanderslice is pleased to see the medical corridor coming to fruition, she believes some balance in land use is still important.

“In a town like Wilton, I think you need a balance. I think we have enough space to have the right mix between new residential and new medical,” she said.

She pointed to 60 Danbury Rd. (in the Wilton Corporate Park where Hartford Healthcare is located) as an example of an area with a good mix.

A developer — the same one currently developing 141 Danbury Rd., the former Melissa and Doug location — has submitted a pre-application for multifamily housing at 64 Danbury Rd., also located in the Wilton Corporate Park, within a block of ASML’s multiple locations. As envisioned by the developer, 64 Danbury would include 116 units with a clubhouse and pool. 

“You can convert 64 Danbury Rd. to apartments, and you’ve not disrupted the landscape,” Vanderslice noted. “The traffic volume that was there when those buildings were full versus the traffic volume if they put apartments there — if they do decide to pursue that, that’s an ideal location. If you’re working at ASML, you can live there, walk to work, walk to your medical, there’s restaurants… “

Citing more pedestrians in the area throughout the day as one example, Vanderslice believes the increased presence of medical and residential properties in that area is adding a vibrancy it didn’t have just a few years ago.

“I really think that part of Danbury Rd. in South Wilton is developing into a community of its own,” she said. “You have a different sense of the community along Rt. 7 there than you previously had.”

What’s Next?

The next site on the medical corridor could be 88 Danbury Rd.

On April 12, a pre-application was filed with P&Z, seeking to convert the nearly 42,000-sq.ft. existing office building for medical use. It was on the agenda of P&Z’s May 8 meeting. [Editor’s note: GMW will be reporting on the P&Z meeting in a separate story.]

According to the pre-application materials, the building would be occupied by OrthoConnecticut Coastal Orthopedics, which currently has offices in the iPark (761 Main Ave., Norwalk), just a short distance to the south. The reimagined space would include physical therapy services and MRI equipment, among other uses.

Coastal would plan to immediately occupy 21,000 square feet on the building’s second floor, and to occupy at least 10,500 more square feet as leases expire in space currently occupied by other tenants.

The building footprint would remain unchanged “with the possible exception of a new elevator at the rear of the building to accommodate a stretcher.”

The existing 156 parking spaces (including 66 below the building) are sufficient for office use but not for medical use. The applicant is seeking a modification of P&Z’s required parking ratio.

“We look forward to a conversation and collaboration with the [P&Z] Commission so that the existing building can once again be fully utilized,” the applicant wrote in a pre-application letter.