Editorial: Going Commercial

First Selectman Bill Brennan, Selectmen Hal Clark, Ted Hoffstatter, Jim Saxe, and Dick Dubow, and the members of the town’s Economic Development Commission are to be commended for pursuing economic development in Wilton in a meaningful way.

The commission presented its “strategic recommendations” to the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 6, intending to boost the town’s commercial sector. A draft of the 38-page document includes the commission’s vision for the town, specific recommendations, and recommended next steps.

With the conclusion of work on Route 7 nearly four years past, and the nation’s economy moving forward once again, the town fathers are wise to devote significant attention to retaining, and adding to, a strong commercial base.

This effort follows steps that have improved the ambiance of Wilton’s downtown, but recognizes a commercial sector — corporate office space — that is rarely in the forefront of residents’ minds unless they happen to work there.

A strong commercial sector will help the town’s bottom line, as increasing revenue from a commercial tax base will ease the burden on residential taxpayers.

In a recent interview with The Bulletin, Mr. Brennan said 14% of Wilton’s tax revenue now comes from the commercial sector. If that were increased by a few percentage points, it could go a long way to holding the line on residential property taxes that support town services and schools. Given the future bonding obligations of the town — including continuing the road restoration program and Miller-Driscoll renovations — anything the town can do to increase commercial tax revenue is vital.

The town is limited in what it can do since development has to take place in the private, not public sector. But the commission outlined a number of reasonable approaches the town and its citizens can take, including developing a website businesspeople can refer to when seeking a place to set up shop, creating a “rapid response team” to assist urgent needs of businesses, fostering communication between town leaders and the business community, and developing marketing outreach. Perhaps most important is the suggestion of developing a “holistic blueprint” of the town so development efforts are coordinated and will not infringe on all that is good in Wilton.

Some of these suggestions are already in place. The first selectman’s office has often worked with the Wilton Chamber of Commerce on events to promote the town, such as the Scarecrow Festival each fall and courting Toll Brothers when the company showed interest in developing land languishing on River Road.

Wilton is not a bedroom community, and the town benefits from having distinct commercial corridors that do not impede on the residential neighborhoods Wiltonians hold dear. The town needs to do all it can to further improve those commercial districts.

The members of the Economic Development Commission are Chairman Peter Gaboriault, Co-Vice Chairmen Karen Keasler and Michael Lindberg, Nickolas Davatzes, Tricia Hartner, Mikael Herve, Al Nickel, Chris Stroup, and Lee Wilson. Additional original members were Shawn Marell and Anthony Preisano.