It seemed like a long time in coming, but the public finally got its chance to speak on the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) Feb. 8 during a work session at the Wilton High School cafeteria that attracted about 50 residents.
The meeting gave an opportunity for the public to speak without the formal procedures of a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing, in which people first have to approach a microphone and give their name and address. The relaxed atmosphere brought out a number of points of view that were waiting to be heard.
“I love my home. I love my two-acre zoning. I want it to continue,” said one man, who takes pride in the town’s large-lot, large-house residential development style that makes housing diversity a challenge for the future.
Another resident felt the town is overly focused on families with children.
On the other hand, another resident felt the number and adequacy of fields was insufficient given how important sports are to children, as well as other recreational facilities. She pointed out Ridgefield has a community center with a pool.
Some residents expressed disappointment that the process of formulating a Plan of Conservation and Development has not been more transparent, but they were promised things are just getting started and there will be many opportunities for public input, not just official data mining. That data comes from the U.S. Census and various state agencies, according to the project consultant, Milone & MacBroom.
Another resident was disappointed there is no chat forum hosted on the website. The consultant said they are not able to properly monitor any chat forum.
It was an enthusiastic crowd, said Bob Nerney, the town’s planning director.
“I hope moving forward, the enthusiasm continues and more members of the public continue to get involved sharing their ideas and vision for the community,” Nerney said following the meeting, which lasted about three hours and featured several audience participation exercises including an instantly tabulated survey.
The survey questions were compiled from the mission statement of the existing Plan of Conservation and Development.
The results from the crowd showed that most of the people in attendance did not believe Wilton changed for the better in the last 10 years. There were complaints about the style of development that has come, and the loss of historic houses.
More than half agreed there are strong bonds of community in Wilton, although one man complained that the local newspaper subscribers have taken a dive over the years, showing a loss of a sense of community.
Only 35% agreed that the town has an identity and character.
There were frequent complaints from the audience that the downtown area, the town center, is not walker friendly, is unattractive, and has too many empty storefronts, unable to attract new small retailers.
Many strongly disagreed that the town is able to blend elements of its historic past with the 21st Century, or were even sure what that means.
Those who could not attend the meeting can still participate online. The website for the POCD is Wilton2029.com.
The next public opportunity will be a focus group on housing scheduled for Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Trackside Teen Center. There will be monthly focus groups at which the public may participate.