Economic Development Commission: Commercial plan due in fall

“People are upset about the amount of taxes they are paying,” said Wilton Economic Development Commissioner Peter Gaboriault. “That must be addressed. The commission’s mission is to address the revenue side of that problem.”

The Economic Development Commission was formed in early 2012 by the Wilton Board of Selectmen with the intent of increasing the number of commercial revenue sources for the town. Since its formation, Mr. Gaboriault said in an interview with The Bulletin on Monday, the commission has used its members’ range of experience to increase Wilton’s commercial development.

“We have a wide spectrum of members,” he said, “from people with no real estate or financial background, to commercial real estate brokers, to attorneys, to a Wall Street executive. There’s a very broad spectrum that the selectmen picked.”

Each member focuses on a specific side of the town’s economic development by joining one or more subcommittees. This, the commissioner said, has helped expedite the decision-making process.

“There’s been no problem coming to consensus for the commission,” he said. “We created subcommittees so people with more marketing background are doing marketing, while people with real estate backgrounds do the hands-on, ‘what can we do right now’ analysis. We’ve split it up so people could use their strengths.”

Overall, Mr. Gaboriault said the commission is an important way for the town to work towards increasing revenue without continuously increasing property taxes. By the fall, the commission hopes to complete a full Plan of Economic Development for Wilton, he said.

“We are focusing on increasing the commercial real estate base, not the residential at all. Our goal is that by this fall, we will have a plan of economic development in place which will outline what the commission believes is necessary to achieve increased revenue,” he said.

The commission believes Wilton is an excellent candidate for businesses looking to expand for many reasons. It is centrally located in Fairfield County, and offers less traffic congestion than bigger urban areas, Mr. Gaboriault said.

“Wilton has the advantage of being in the center of Fairfield County geographically,” he said. “We’re a little farther north than Stamford, and Wilton is easier for people to get to from the north. We also have access to the Merritt Parkway, and transportation ease. Wilton’s sort of a mixed bag on that front.”

Additionally, the town’s moderate real estate pricing, and green-certified buildings have acted as perks for businesses planning relocation.

“We are substantially less expensive than Stamford” and other Fairfield County towns, the commissioner said. Additionally, “the Davis Company building is a LEED-certified building and they got TD Bank as a tenant solely because the bank wanted a green building.”

Wilton’s collection of corporate campuses are also coveted by employers.

“You do have more of a campus setting than an urban setting,” Mr. Gaboriault said. “It’s relatively easy to get to. We have our transportation issues, but it’s still easier to get to than Stamford.”

The biggest impediment to commercial growth in Wilton, the commissioner said, is that the town is running out of land to designate as commercial areas.

“Were running out of sites,” he said. “There are a few sites in play right now that are clear development sites. The owner of Cannondale Village is looking to develop his site, and there is a home equity site across from town hall that, in a few years, will become available. After that, it gets pretty thin.”

The expansion and renovation of Cannondale Village is one idea the commission has been discussing thoroughly, Mr. Gaboriault said. The owner of the village had proposed renovating the property to add residential buildings, but the matter has not come before town boards for more than a year.

“It’s large topic of discussion for us,” Mr. Gaboriault said, “because that property is in play. It’s the commission’s opinion that Wilton should look at the zoning plan of Cannondale as a whole. It’s important that the town decide what should or shouldn’t happen. Our opinion is that the town look at the whole area rather than addressing applications on a piece by piece basis,” like what happened in Wilton Center.

Some Wilton residents do not agree the town should be looking to increase revenue through commercial expansion, but Mr. Gaboriault said it is a necessary town initiative. His commission’s charter includes a requirement to maintain the rural nature of Wilton, and he plans on retaining the town’s charm.

“I totally get [their worries],” he said. “Part of our charter from the selectmen was to retain the rural character. We’re not going out there soliciting big box stores. We understand it’s a trade-off. We have to strike a balance.”