Editorial: Living in Wilton Center

They are only two apartments, but Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission got it right Monday night when it approved an application to create two apartments over office space on Hubbard Road in Wilton Center. Although there are a number of apartments already in the center of town, this is a case where more is better.

It makes sense to have apartments downtown, where utilities such as public sewer, public water and gas lines as well as transportation like the rail and bus lines support higher density. Wilton’s regulations encourage apartments above storefronts and were changed not so long ago to allow increased density near the train station.

Noting residential development that is taking place east of the Norwalk River up by Wilton Commons, Wilton’s town planner, Bob Nerney, says bringing people into or close to the center makes for a more vibrant community center. And he is right.

Most of Wilton’s higher-density housing — Avalon, Village Walk, Wilton Crest and other condo developments — are on the fringes of downtown.

More apartments closer to the center would bring more foot traffic to shops and restaurants. An increase in pedestrians may encourage more businesses to move in or stick around. And if those businesses and restaurants were diverse enough, it might attract young adults who enjoy living in urban areas as opposed to big houses with big lawns and big upkeep. This is something for Wilton to think seriously about, especially since U.S. census data indicates that while Wilton’s population is generally declining, the number of 20-to 39-year-olds is expected to nearly double by 2025. (See this story http://bit.ly/1Xl2Uhb.)

Wilton has a lot to offer in the form of in-town living, with food markets, a drugstore, restaurants, retail shops, and other services such as banks and a post office. The sidewalks have been upgraded, the town green is a nice open spot, and the artwork that has been installed adds to the sophistication of a small-town center. Wilton also has the advantage over its neighbors of a river running through the center of town, but it has not  capitalized on this and and it deserves more attention.

But Wilton can do more. It needs to attract a more diverse commercial investment for younger residents who enjoy places to congregate and socialize.

And for those who worry that redeveloping some areas into more dense housing might upset the character of Wilton Center, remember, we do have an architectural review process to successfully blend improvements to this lovely New England town.