Seeking Wilton’s identity

What is Wilton? It’s a town, obviously, but what kind of town?

At the Feb. 16 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Wilton’s Economic Development Commission presented a two-phase plan for finding out exactly how Wilton should identify itself, and what, once that’s understood, can be practically done here on the side of development for economic reasons.

“Phase One,” commission Vice Chair Vivian Lee-Shiue said, would be the consultation of a branding expert for $25,000, and Phase Two would be consultation of a planning expert for $32,000.

“[The branding consultant] would look at everything from how we’re structured, where we sit between towns, what some of the other towns have relative to us, what our strengths are, and where our town center lies,” Lee-Shiue said.

The findings, she said, would determine Wilton’s “brand.”

“[The planning consultant],” Lee-Shiue continued, “would take the recommendations of the branding consultant, in conjunction with our economic development strategy, and provide us with recommendations and action plans on how to execute [what’s suggested].”

Lee-Shiue said the majority of the remainder of her commission’s current $35,000 budget would be expended this fiscal year on Phase One, and requested a budget increase of 61% — $56,370 overall — in fiscal year 2017, mostly to cover Phase Two.

In addition to the $32,000 intended for the planning consultant, the requested budget includes $10,000 for grant writing, $8,000 to hire two university-level interns, and the commission’s usual expenses, like website maintenance and the economic development forum.

“Can you explain to us, in some more detail, the branding? — because that’s a significant amount of money,” asked First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice.

Lee-Shiue answered Vanderslice’s question by delineating that it’s not really branding the town, it’s identifying what the town’s brand is, so that decision makers who are involved with economic development here have that as a guide.

“Maybe you need to structure yourself as a family-friendly kind of town. … Or, maybe, they might say, ‘You want to focus on young people who are just getting their careers started’ — maybe, maybe not.”

In other words, Wilton shouldn’t try to promote itself as, for example, a “family-friendly” town, if in reality it’s actually more of a hub for fresh-faced professionals.

Lee-Shiue argued that, by consulting experts, the Economic Development Commission could provide “Wilton with more of an identity, for both outsiders to [help them] understand what we would provide them as potential businesses and residents coming into town, and then for the existing residents to be able to have an identity as well.”

The planning consultant, on the other hand, according to Lee-Shiue, would supply Wilton decision makers with methods they can use to implement what gets suggested by the branding expert.

“Phase One is marketing,” Lee-Shiue said. “Phase two is execution.”

Because the Economic Development Commission’s proposal involves planning, it overlaps the jurisdiction of the Planning and Zoning Department.

“[The planning consultant] might provide some recommendations on rezoning, perhaps, [so] of course we would have to do this very closely in conjunction with the planning department,” Lee-Shiue said.

Accordingly, she pledged, “No work or consultations or any execution will be done without checking with the various commissions first, to make sure we’re not duplicating efforts.”

One selectman wanted to ensure that if the Economic Development Commission were to seek expert advice and use it to create an overall developmental plan, that plan would adhere to the Wilton Plan of Conservation and Development.

The Plan of Conservation and Development is a long-term plan for the future of Wilton that provides guidance and recommendations with respect to future land-use policies. It was adopted by the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2009.

Selectman Dick Dubow said that when the Economic Development Commission was formed back in 2012, “[selectmen] wanted whatever economic development plan that emerged to be consistent with the Plan of Conservation and Development.”

“There’s always that inherent conflict between development and maintaining what currently exists, and I think we wanted the commission to struggle with that balance, because I think it’s important to try to attain,” Dubow said.