As the Four Seasons Racquet Club and the Northeast Volleyball Club (NEVBC) try to advance their goal for a new, 28,000 square foot, indoor volleyball facility, representatives of the two organizations met with Wilton’s Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission for a pre-application review.
The non-binding discussion, in which both the applicants and the town can share their thoughts and ask questions before a formal application is submitted, took place Monday evening, June 14.
Wilton’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) conducted its own pre-application review meeting on June 3 and responded very favorably to the preliminary plans.
While both the ARB and P&Z were convinced of the need for and appeal of the volleyball facility in the marketplace, it remains uncertain whether Wilton’s existing zoning regulations can reasonably be amended to allow it, in a way that the P&Z Commission would find acceptable.
Great Idea, But…
Before diving into a discussion of the zoning regulations, commission chair Rick Tomasetti surveyed the other commissioners for their overall reactions to the preliminary plans.
The appropriateness of the intended use of the facility was not in dispute. All commissioners felt a volleyball facility was a fitting addition to a property that has already been approved for tennis. At the same time, commissioners also saw great value in the facility’s potential to attract many new visitors to Wilton and to nearby shops and restaurants.
After various commissioners praised the plans as “a great asset” and “a positive addition” to the town, commissioner Melissa-Jean Rotini shifted the conversation back to zoning issues. She said, “While I don’t have a problem with it, tennis and volleyball are great, but I don’t have a [proposed text amendment] so I don’t know what I can talk about. I see the architecture, I see what you want to do with the building, but what we’re really talking about is a text change … While the business itself might benefit, what is the text change doing? I don’t need to be sold on the tennis and volleyball, I need to be sold on the text change.”
Similarly, commissioner Chris Pagliaro said, “I think it’s nice to have the amenity in town, I think it’s nice to bring people from other towns into our town with facilities like this, but I agree with [Rotini], I look at this more as a zoning question. This is about the zoning more so than the proposed use.”
… Can It Work?
The need for a text change to Wilton’s current regulations is driven by the proposed facility’s “bulk.”
As Jim Murphy, the land-use attorney for the applicants, conveyed in the pre-application materials, “Indoor volleyball facilities are very large by necessity … Ultimately, Four Seasons and NEVBC will be requesting some relief from the existing bulk regulations applicable in the GB zone” in the form of a text amendment to the regulations, specifically in terms of “more favorable treatment on the questions of front and rear yard setbacks, floor area ratio and building coverage.”
To put the issue in context, the building coverage regulation, for example, currently allows up to 66,438 square feet, or 25% coverage. The proposed new building would put that number at 104,248 square feet, or 39.2% coverage, according to the pre-application materials.
Setback regulations could also be difficult to overcome. The applicants are hopeful that two adjoining, state-owned properties can help by providing a “de facto setback.”
One parcel, slightly less than one acre, is a long, triangular shape with frontage on Danbury Rd., as seen below. Four Seasons is already working with CT DOT to purchase that parcel. The new facility would be constructed behind the parcel, away from Danbury Rd., where the pool and outdoor courts are presently located.
The applicants are also investigating leasing a roughly 300-foot, state-owned parcel at the rear of the property, to be used for overflow parking for large volleyball events. That parcel of land is being held by the state in reserve in the unlikely event that the “Super 7” highway project is resurrected.
Murphy acknowledged that even with both parcels, “We still would be out of compliance with the regulations. It’s not quite enough land to push us into compliance.” However, he added, “That state land is a big positive.”
If the purpose of a setback is to provide some distance of separation, or for people to perceive separation, then, attorney Murphy said, “Whether we own it or not, that’s the purpose it’s serving.”
The commissioners did not get into a hypothetical discussion of what the applicants would ultimately propose. They did, however, encourage the applicants to keep proceeding.
“On the surface, it all seems pretty doable, but I need to see the text change,” Tomasetti said. He advised the applicants’ team to work with Town Planner Michael Wrinn to craft the language of a proposed text amendment that might meet the commission’s approval in a formal application.
Wrinn said he plans to carefully examine a draft text change the team had just shared with him earlier that day, “to see how it applies to other properties, how extensive it is, the classic unanticipated problems you may have with other problems because of it,” he said.
Assuming some agreement could be reached with Wrinn on the language of the text change, the applicants plan to proceed with a formal application, pending some final design details needed for the application.