2013 Wilton headlines of the year
Like any other year, 2013 brought its share of tragedies, triumphs and controversies. From a vicious dog attack to the approval of an open space purchase to a debate over stadium lights, they touch the community in often profound ways.
Assembled, in no particular order, are some of the year’s biggest stories compiled by The Bulletin.
Wilton Commons opens
It seemed as if it might never happen, but after almost a decade of planning and building, Wilton Commons opened its doors with a ribbon cutting in June. The project, which was first approved in 2004 when Wiltonians voted to lease town land, faced some public opposition and a bad economy before senior citizens had their affordable living quarters.
The Bulletin got a look inside in late April, just after Wilton Commons received its certificate of occupancy.
Individuals 62 and older were invited to live in one of the 51 units, which range in size from 605 to 630 square feet. All the units have since been occupied.
With amenities that helped build it into a community, and comfortable living space, Ken Dartley, a member of the Wilton Commons board, said he felt they had built a blueprint.
“I think we set an example for other towns,” Mr. Dartley said at the time. “If you want to keep your seniors, build something nice for them.”
By October, rents dropped at the site. A drop in rent limits set by the Federal Low Income Tax Credit Program helped reduce the cost per month to $477 for Tier I applicants and $1,278 for Tier III. Rents originally ranged from $517 to $1,360.
Eating our fiber
One of the buzzwords around Wilton in 2013 was fiber, the shorthand for the proposed fiber-optic plan. While not formally put to rest, the concept was dealt a severe blow in February with the announcement the project had hit a stumbling block.
Specifically, Yankee Gas, which is scheduled to build a trench and pipe project during the summer, ended town efforts to lay in fiber-optic conduit in place with the gas line.
“A separate trench would be required to meet utility separation requirements,” Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan said, a vastly more expensive proposal.
The Board of Finance had indicated in a vote it was against the proposal in February, while members of Wilton’s school board and other officials saw the plan that would virtually link schools and town buildings as “optimal” and “necessary.”
If put in place, the fiber-optic plan would allow for better bandwidth between the police and fire departments, as well as Wilton Public Schools.
While many other school systems have it, Wilton had yet to join the full-day kindergarten movement when 2013 dawned. In fact, the new assistant superintendent at Wilton, Dr. Charles Smith, was taken aback by that fact.
“In Greenwich, we’ve had full-day kindergarten since I started in the late 90s, and where I came from in New York, it was always full-day,” he said in August. “So I was scratching my head when I heard how controversial it was.”
Indeed, full-day kindergarten did come to Wilton in 2013, with an option for students to opt out into a half-day model. Overall, reaction from the school district indicated a large majority opted for full-day.
The conversation reached a head in February, with many voices being heard from in a meeting with the Board of Education at Wilton High School. In March, the board voted 4-2 in favor of the plan to implement full-day kindergarten.
In the ‘Loop’
The Norwalk River Valley Trail, intended to someday go from Norwalk to Danbury, passing through Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield, got a push forward in the cold November drizzle with a groundbreaking near Route 7 and Wolfpit Road.
The portion to be built is a demonstration section of the Wilton Loop, an eight-mile section of the nature and recreational trail. On the east side, the loop will begin (or end, depending on the perspective) at the junction of routes 33 and 7, extending to Cannondale Crossing and the adjacent train station. The west route will travel between Wolfpit Road and Allen’s Meadow, connecting School Road with Merwin Meadows and Wilton Center.
“We live in the enchanted forest,” state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) said. “This trail will turn it into something we can all enjoy.”
The intention is for the demonstration section to be completed by early 2014.
Boucher for governor?
She has been one of the strong political voices of the region, and perhaps she wants to be the most powerful person in the state.
State Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton (R-26) announced on Aug. 27 she intended to form an exploratory committee to evaluate becoming the next governor of Connecticut.
She made the announcement in Naugatuck, where she arrived after spending the first few years of her life in Italy. Her story is that of the traditional American Dream, complete with a young woman who couldn’t read or write when she first came to the United States.
Education has been a big platform for Ms. Boucher, but she also intends to broaden the state’s tax base if elected.
“Connecticut was once a beacon of hope for immigrants,” she said at her formal committee announcement. “It was the envy of the nation because of its low taxes and great education. Connecticut rewarded hard work and success, it didn’t punish it. I love Connecticut, but I can’t stand by while policies of Governor Malloy drag it to the ground.”
Other Republican hopefuls include Mark Boughton, mayor of Danbury; John McKinney, a state senator from Fairfield; and front-runner Tom Foley, the former ambassador to Ireland, who lost to Mr. Malloy by less than 1% in 2010.
In October, Ms. Boucher’s committee reported it had raised almost $30,000. She has yet to formally announce that she is indeed running for governor.
A resident of Range Road, Anne Murray, was viciously attacked by her son’s pet American Staffordshire terrier on Nov. 11 of this year, resulting in the loss of one arm and the partial loss of another. An American Staffordshire terrier is commonly referred to as a “pit bull.”
Responding to the call, Capt. John Lynch shot and killed the dog, which represented a threat to others on the scene.
The event sparked debate throughout the Connecticut dog community over whether pit bulls represent a more significant safety threat than other dog breeds.
Athletic lights debate
Over the course of three months, from September to November, residents debated a proposed regulation change to Wilton’s zoning rules regarding lights for athletic facilities at town-owned school properties. The change would have allowed light poles as high as 80 feet.
In the end, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted to deny the regulation change, saying the petitioning organizations had not made a strong enough case in support of the change.
Those in favor of the change, largely members of Wilton Youth Field Hockey, Football, and Lacrosse, argued the town’s current field availability does not live up to Wilton’s dedication to excellence. They wanted to place the lights primarily at Middlebrook School.
Residents in opposition to the regulation change argued it was counter to the town’s master plan and saw its implementation as permanently affecting the town’s rural character and property values.
Keiser property easement purchase
Just under 8% — 7.6% — of voters turned out to vote on the town’s potential purchase of a conservation easement of 39.5 acres of land owned by the Keiser family on the corner of Cannon and Seeley roads in late November.
Eighty-nine percent of those votes were counted in support of the purchase, which will cost the town $2.2 million over the course of 20 years.
Although the Keiser family will still own the property, the easement will ensure conservation of the land in perpetuity. Agricultural uses and public access will be allowed.
Public access would include footpaths through the land.
Village Market is sold
The Village Market’s ownership changed hands in October, but it is fair to say the local landmark “stayed in the family.” After more than 20 years at the helm, owner Peter Keating announced on Oct. 3 the sale of the business to two longtime employees.
Michael Picheco, the store’s grocery, frozen foods, and dairy manager, and Timothy Dolnier, the deli and prepared food manager, reached a stock purchase agreement with Mr. Keating earlier this year, and are now co-owners of the store.
“Peter has provided us with a great foundation to start from,” Mr. Picheco said. “There is a strong, positive work environment for our employees. That is something Peter has provided us with over the past years,” and it is something the new ownership plans to continue.
Bank changes hands
The Wilton Bank officially became a branch of Bankwell on Nov. 6, after approval by the Connecticut Department of Banking.
The transaction, which was originally announced in mid-June, means Wilton Bank shareholders received in the area of $13.50 per share, bringing the total deal to about $5 million, according to Peyton R. Patterson, president and chief executive officer of Bankwell Financial Group.
“We are excited to have passed this milestone and look forward to completing the merger,” Ms. Patterson said. “Together, we will continue to be the hometown bank serving the local community, but with a far greater array of services to offer individuals and businesses in the Wilton market.”
Weston boy dies in Wilton bike accident
A young boy from Weston, 12-year old A.J. Cina, was killed as a result of a bicycle accident in the vicinity of 150 Cedar Road on July 29.
Wilton police responded to a 911 call and found A.J. off the east side of the road with injuries to his head and face. Wilton EMS attended to him and took him to Norwalk Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Wilton Lt. Donald Wakeman characterized the incident as “a tragic accident.”
Lt. Wakeman said A.J., who was not wearing a helmet, may have turned his head to check for traffic when he swerved off the road, colliding with a tree and cinder block. No cars were operating on the road when the accident occurred, according to police interviews with witnesses.
Nemo found us
A nor’easter dubbed Nemo dumped about 24 inches of snow in Wilton, but the biggest news was that there were no significant power outages as a result. In fact, a message on the town website on Saturday, Feb. 9, was a jubilant “Hallelujah!”
The town began preparing for the storm on Thursday, when First Selectman Bill Brennan issued a Code Red announcement urging residents to get ready and the fire and police departments scheduled extra manpower. For the Department of Public Works, it was “all hands on deck.”
As the storm moved in, on Friday schools, the library, the senior center, the Y, and many businesses closed. The town’s Emergency Operations Center opened at noon, and members of the Community Emergency Response Team readied the emergency shelter at Comstock Community Center in case it was needed. It was not.
Metro-North trains became bogged down in the storm and rail service was suspended by 10 p.m.
With crews working all night, town officials reported 90% of Wilton’s roads had been plowed at least once by Saturday morning.
Gov. Dannel Malloy banned all non-emergency vehicles from limited-access highways. One result was the suspension of mail delivery that Saturday.
Except for rail service, things were pretty much back to normal on Sunday.
Spring and summer were busy seasons this year for comings and goings as Wilton said good-bye to a number of community leaders and welcomed their replacements.
Fire Chief Paul Milositz stepped down in July after 10 years as head of the department. He was also the town’s chief emergency officer. “It’s been a real pleasure and privilege to work here,” he said on his departure. Mr. Milositz is now in Florida, reportedly pursuing a position as a monorail driver at Walt Disney World.
The fire commission has named Matthew Marcarelli of the New Haven Fire Department as his successor, although his hiring has not been finalized. Mr. Marcarelli is director of training for the New Haven Fire Department. He was also a member of the group known as the New Haven 20 who successfully sued the city of New Haven for discrimination in the fire department’s promotion process.
Also leaving in July was Rabbi Leah Cohen, who had led the congregation at Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown, to become executive director of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University and senior Jewish chaplain.
Stepping in as a “temporary shepherd” was Rabbi David A. Lipper, who is serving as interim rabbi. Rabbi Lipper will serve while the temple’s board of directors conducts a search for a permanent rabbi. David Abraham, president of the temple board, said earlier this month the search is on schedule and “going very well.” Rabbinical contracts usually begin July 1.
As the sixth through eighth graders left for summer vacation, Julia Harris prepared to leave her office as principal of Middlebrook School. After 28 years with the school district, 15 as principal of the middle school, she retired.
Stepping into her place was Maria Coleman, a 14-year veteran with Wilton schools, most recently as associate principal at Wilton High School.
Summer brought another departure from the school district when Assistant Superintendent Timothy Canty left Wilton to become assistant superintendent for secondary education in Darien. Mr. Canty was more than a familiar face on campus. He grew up in Wilton and graduated from Wilton High School and served as a teacher, instructional leader, athletic coach, high school principal, and administrator for 25 years.
In his place, Wilton welcomed Charles Smith, formerly principal of the North Street Elementary School in Greenwich.
After 50 years as a Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael Palmer retired on May 26. He had served Our Lady of Fatima for 36 years, watching it grow from a parish of 650 in 1977 to 1,800 today.
Our Lady of Fatima’s new pastor is Father Reginald Norman, who arrived on July 1.
Sadly, the Wilton community lost Cider Mill principal Virginia “Ginny” Rico in June when she lost a lengthy battle with cancer. Ms. Rico had been principal since 2002. She was remembered at a memorial service in October.
—Jeannette Ross contributed to this story