Wilton’s Board of Selectmen (BOS) and the Housing Committee both met earlier this week (Feb. 7 and Feb. 8, respectively) to discuss the work-in-progress on Wilton’s affordable housing plan.
The state of Connecticut requires every municipality to have an affordable housing plan under the 8-30j statute:
“At least once every five years, each municipality shall prepare or amend and adopt an affordable housing plan for the municipality. Such plan shall specify how the municipality intends to increase the number of affordable housing developments in the municipality.”
[Editor’s note: Connecticut General Statute Sec. 8-30j is different from 8-30g; the latter refers to the statute that allows developers to pursue housing projects without meeting local planning and zoning requirements in municipalities where less than 10% of the housing stock is affordable.]
Wilton’s five-year plan is due on June 1. The draft plan can be found on the Town website.
Director of Land Use and Town Planner Michael Wrinn has been overseeing the work on the plan. He updated the selectmen at their Feb. 7 meeting.
He began by noting that Wilton’s plan is being developed as part of a regional planning approach organized by WestCOG, the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, a regional agency representing 18 municipalities, including Wilton.
Although larger WestCOG members like Norwalk, Stamford, Danbury, and even Westport (which has its own Housing Authority) have opted to create their own plans, Wrinn believes being part of the regional plan has been the right choice for Wilton.
“This is a very good way to do it because regionally, we’ve got a lot of the same issues [as other municipalities],” Wrinn said. “I’m continually impressed by [WestCOG’s] capabilities. This is a very, very well done plan.”
Members of Wilton’s Housing Committee expressed a similar view of the WestCOG plan at their Feb. 8 meeting. Committee member David Rintoul, who recently represented the committee on a group call with WestCOG about the plan, said, “What WestCOG has put together is pretty impressive.”
The 130-page draft includes a wide-ranging analysis of market influences, housing needs assessments, land availability, infrastructure, zoning incentives and disincentives, and other relevant topics.
“We’re looking at some of the numbers to confirm them, but we feel pretty comfortable that the majority of this is in good shape,” Wrinn reported.
That includes the Wilton-specific addendum to the regional plan.
Wrinn directed the selectmen’s attention to what he said was the most critical part of the plan: a set of strategies that could be considered by Wilton to achieve its affordable housing goals.
The strategies are not necessarily new but they emanate from Wilton’s sweeping Plan of Conservation and Development, adopted in 2018.
As stated in the draft addendum to the Wilton affordable housing plan, the key strategies could include:
- Encourage smaller-scale, lower cost, and /or multifamily housing, whether as transit-orientated, stand-alone, or mixed-use development, to serve the entire Wilton community, including younger working age or older populations whose housing and affordability needs overlap and for whom access to transit and services is important. Target this housing in Wilton Center, Georgetown train station areas and Danbury Rd. south of Cannon St.
- Explore a change in the Zoning Regulations to allow an increase of permitted residential density in [Wilton Center] and along Danbury Road where development capacity and supportive infrastructure is available or appropriately expanded.
- Undertake a study to determine if denser, yet compatible, housing opportunities in abutting transition areas, including condominiums, smaller single-family homes and smaller-scale “missing middle” housing (which falls between single-family housing and larger scale multi-family developments), is appropriate and can be properly located.
- Evaluate adopting inclusionary zoning regulation that requires a percentage of any new residential development to meet State CGS Section 8-30g affordability guidelines, in order to promote the development of affordable housing.
- Develop an ongoing education program for residents about housing and housing issues with collaboration with other local, state and national groups and agencies, such as State Department of Housing, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, etc.
- Consider developing surplus Town-owned properties for small-scale affordable housing. The high cost of land in Wilton is often seen as an obstacle to the creation of housing. By having the Town partner with a private non-profit or private sector developer, the high cost associated with the land would be reduced. Any needed changes in zoning would have to accommodate appropriate densities.
- Promote public awareness that Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s), whether detached or attached, are allowed in Wilton. Use the Town website, local social media, and the board of realtors, among other sources, to communicate this option. Review the Zoning Regulations to determine if the current ADU regulations are appropriate in regards to lot size, parking and unit size, while keeping reasonable restrictions in place. A determination [of whether] changes are needed in order to comply with the new Public Act 21-29 is needed.
- Provide affordable housing training to staff and members of land use boards. Training will ensure that staff and land use board members are educated on the latest statutory requirements and understand the best practices for affordable housing.
- Explore tools and incentives to retain existing affordable housing units with expiring affordability covenants.
Wrinn is looking to prioritize some of the above strategies for greater focus, to maximize the chances of Wilton’s success in its goal to increase affordable housing options.
Selectman Ross Tartell commented on the strategic need for the plan.
“It’s important that we move this type of thing forward,” Tartell said. “It’s so important to the future of our town, regardless of what the state wants. If you look at where Wilton is going and what we need to be a fabulous town, we need to do many of these things.”
The selectmen agreed to review the draft strategies, and each member would identify their top priorities and then share their individual thoughts at the Feb. 22 BOS meeting. They hope to reach a consensus on the top five or six strategies to recommend to Wrinn.
Wrinn told the BOS there will be three public information sessions in March. GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Wrinn for details about the sessions and will update readers as soon as more details are available.
The BOS must vote to officially approve the plan once it is finalized.