2017: What happened in Wilton?
Some stories were new this year, some were holdovers from last year or even before. Some were on quite serious subjects, others more lighthearted. Whether quick or ongoing, the headlines were many this year. Here, in no particular order, are our picks for the top stories of 2017.
Acts of hate
More than 150 people gathered inside Wilton Hindu Mandir on Westport Road to show their solidarity on Sept. 26 , after the temple’s spiritual leader, Swami Balgopal, discovered that a rock had been thrown into the window of a building on temple grounds the day before.
Bryan Haeffele photos
Wilton Presbyterian Church’s Rev. Shannon White told The Bulletin she spoke to Balgopal, who told her it was the third time something like this had happened in six months. The other two times were not reported to police.
A swastika drawn in red marker was found on a wall in a boys bathroom in the yellow section of Middlebrook School the morning of Oct. 5.
Middlebrook Principal Lauren Feltz called the “hateful graffiti” a “deplorable act” in a letter to parents and said the swastika was “immediately taken down.” A second swastika was later discovered, she said, and that, too, was “immediately removed.”
The parent of the child who drew the swastika came forward the morning of Oct. 6.
Later that month, on Oct. 26, a Jewish sixth grader found a sticky note on her locker at Middlebrook with the message “Jews will burn.”
The next day, First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice, Superintendent Kevin Smith, Rabbi Rachel Bearman of Temple B’nai Chaim, police Capt. Rob Cipolla, state Rep. Gail Lavielle, Steve Ginsburg of the Anti-Defamation League, and other town officials and clergy members gathered at town hall to denounce the incident and promise action to foster a greater sense of inclusiveness within the Wilton community.
Wilton police found the individual responsible for creating the “Jews will burn” note on Nov. 2. The person’s identity was not disclosed.
Responses to hate
Early in the year, eight representatives from different faiths were joined by approximately 100 people at Wilton Presbyterian Church to pray for peace and unity in the Wilton community, the nation and the world.
The overriding theme invoked by speakers at the Feb. 7 service was love and respect for one another, justice, peace, and reverence for the world around us.
Bryan Haeffele photos
Wilton’s interfaith community of clergy held a candlelight vigil in the courtyard at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Wilton on Aug. 23, in response to the white supremacy march that took place in Charlottesville, Va., earlier that month. More than 100 people stood together in the face of hate speech and hateful acts. The message was a secular one of equality, justice, and love of fellow humans and outright opposition to hate and the idea of white supremacy.
In response to the Middlebrook locker incident, Weston resident Scott Milnor spent two hours holding a “No place for anti-Semitism in Wilton” sign in Wilton Center on Oct. 28. He was accompanied by his wife, Marcela Penaranda, and Susan Cutler of Wilton, who spontaneously joined them.
Jeannette Ross photos
To “promote community solidarity against anti-Semitism and all acts of hate,” Milnor organized a Walk Against Hate in Wilton on Nov. 11. About 100 people took to the sidewalks that day — with signs reading “NO Tolerance for Intolerance,” Stand Up to Bigotry,” “Hate Is Easy, Love Takes Courage” and similar sentiments — and peacefully made their way from the Wilton train station to and around Wilton Center before assembling on the Town Green.
In mid-November, signs with the message “Hate Has No Home Here” in several languages started appearing around town. The signs are part of the Hate Has No Home Here project, which began in Chicago and encourages communities to participate in combating hateful messages and behavior.
Age-restricted overlay district
The hottest topic for the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2017 was the age-restricted overlay district (AROD) regulation that would have allowed a housing development for people aged 55 and older on historic Ridgefield Road as well as elsewhere in town.
Residents of the scenic road showed up in force at public hearings, saying they did not feel kept in the loop on the regulation in its planning stages late in 2016.
During the summer, the commission rescinded its resolution on the regulation because of errors in the way it was announced through a legal notice published in The Bulletin.
Resident Vicki Mavis and her attorney, Christopher Russo, tried and failed to establish a moratorium on age-restricted housing on Ridgefield Road. Resident and attorney Patricia Frisch then tried for a moratorium pertaining to the establishment of any type of district or residential districts, including age-restricted districts, only to fail as well.
Ultimately, developer James Fieber, of 183 Ridgefield Road LLC, reapplied for an AROD regulation and then in December withdrew his application.
The withdrawal letter, from law firm Gregory and Adams PC on behalf of 183 Ridgefield Road LLC, indicated the developer expects the commission will bring its previously rescinded AROD application up again for a public hearing early in 2018 of its own accord, and if it does not, the developer will file an application for higher-density housing in some form on the property it owns at 183 Ridgefield Road.
Bear killings spark outrage
If anyone doubted that Wilton has its share of animal lovers, those doubts were quashed Sept. 16 when outrage grew over the bow-and-arrow killing of two black bears in the Wilton woods of Indian Rock Place.
It lit up local social media pages.
Marguerite Tucker O’Connor, a Wilton resident, responded to the news of the bear killings by announcing plans for a protest at Norwalk Superior Court when the alleged bear poachers were to appear before a judge.
First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice also expressed outrage. Bear hunting is not legal in Connecticut at any time, Vanderslice said in a statement.
“All of us in town government share the public’s outrage and concern about the poaching of two bears within Wilton. Bears are protected in Connecticut,” Vanderslice said in the statement.
In the Sept. 16 case, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection received an anonymous report that an archery hunter had illegally shot and killed two black bears on private property in Wilton.
Officers from DEEP’s Environmental Conservation (EnCon) Police responded and charged Antonio Lio, 28, of Wilton, with two counts of Illegal taking of black bear and one count of fourth-degree negligent hunting on Nov. 30.
Daniel Moran, 33, of Norwalk, was charged with conspiracy to commit illegal taking of black bear.
Moran ultimately pleaded guilty and paid a fine. Lio’s attorney asked for him to be placed on accelerated rehabilitation. That case is pending.
Jeannette Ross photos
Aug. 21 marked the first total solar eclipse visible from coast to coast across the United States in 99 years. Although the eclipse was only 70% of totality in Wilton, more than 300 people still gathered at Wilton Library that day to catch a glimpse that afternoon.
Some watched a live feed from NASA that was streaming on a large screen in the Brubeck Room and in the computer room, while others milled about waiting for the big event in both courtyards and all around the library.
Even though clouds obscured the sun at the greatest point of totality, there were no unhappy faces as people chatted and caught peeks a few minutes later when the clouds thinned.
The library gave out solar eclipse glasses on a first-come, first-served basis. Some people brought their own, while others brought box cut-outs to capture the moon passing in front of the sun.
Democrats dominate election
Election Day this year was a victorious one for Wilton Democrats.
Not only were Democrats the highest vote-getters in all three Wilton districts, but all Democratic candidates won their seats — a feat that proved unattainable just two years ago.
Although slightly more Republicans than Democrats turned out to vote, an energized Democratic turnout appears to have played a critical role.
Five Democrats won in this year’s three hotly contested races:
- Deborah McFadden — Board of Selectmen.
- Deborah Low and Gretchen Jeanes — Board of Education.
- Eric Fanwick and Doris Knapp — Planning and Zoning Commission.
Kendra Baker photos
Following a two-year renovation project, Miller-Driscoll students returned to a revamped school — equipped with new furniture, ceilings, flooring, HVAC systems, windows, emergency sprinklers, playgrounds, and more — on Sept. 5.
The project was completed at least three months early and included improvements to the school’s floor plan, security, energy efficiency, and site circulation. One stumbling block has proven to be a problem with the school’s air-conditioning system, which will be fixed over the summer.
The project was slated at approximately $50.2 million, but came in about $7 million under budget, with a forecasted net cost to taxpayers of about $36 million, after partial reimbursement from the state.
Eric Von Kohorn, the Miller-Driscoll paraprofessional arrested and sent to prison for possession of child pornography, is out of jail but still having an effect on the Wilton school district.
The parents of a girl who was a preschool student at Miller-Driscoll filed suit against the town and Board of Education in 2015, claiming Von Kohorn molested her when he took her to the bathroom in 2012. The suit also alleges that when notified of Von Kohorn’s actions, the school district did not act appropriately to investigate or protect her or other students from him.
In March, the attorney for the town and school board filed a motion to dismiss the suit, claiming immunity. A story on the motion elicited a firestorm of controversy as it enumerated a number of allegations the town’s attorney made about the girl, including that she was “flirtatious.”
In May, before the court had rendered a decision on the motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs offered to settle for $5,250,000 — $4,250,000 for the girl and $500,000 for each of her parents.
The court denied the town’s motion to dismiss in November. The town asked the court to reconsider its denial, but that motion was also denied.
Should there be a trial, jury selection is scheduled for March 6, 2018.
A severe water shortage was actually several years in the making, with rainfall from November 2013 to October 2016 showing the fifth greatest precipitation deficit since 1895. By January, South Norwalk Electric and Water’s reservoirs — including the one off Old Huckleberry Hill Road — were below 25% of capacity, and it had declared a water emergency.
Aquarion asked customers to cut water consumption by 20% and it began diverting large amounts of water from its Bridgeport system to Stamford.
The rains began to fall, however, and by April, reservoirs were back to near-normal capacity. The area was not out of the woods, however, since in October South Norwalk Electric and Water implemented the first stage of its drought response plan, the drought advisory, citing continuing lack of significant beneficial rain, suggesting this could be an on-again, off-again problem well into the future.
The Norwalk River Valley Trail continued its expansion, celebrating in May the completion of a 200-foot boardwalk that traverses wetland in the section that links Autumn Ridge Road and Twin Oaks Lane, bringing the east section of the Wilton Loop portion of the trail to about two miles.
At the boardwalk’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Pat Sesto, president of the Friends of the Norwalk River Valley Trail, announced that the next push forward would be a 2,000-foot stretch to Skunk Lane, which trail builders Timber and Stone began work on last month.
When completed, the eight-mile Wilton Loop will run from Wolfpit Road up to Cannondale, across Route 7, through Allen’s Meadow, down past the schools, Trackside and Wilton Center, and back to Route 7 near Orem’s Diner. In Wilton Center it will pass through Schenck’s Island and past Horseshoe Pond.
In its entirety, the trail is planned as a 38-mile connection from Calf Pasture Beach to Rogers Park in Danbury, passing through Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding along the way.
For information on how to get involved, visit nrvt-trail.org or call 203-563-0180. To see a video of the ribbon-cutting, visit https://youtu.be/zGLYLf2_8FA.
The environment made the news on several fronts this year. Wilton Go Green held a community-wide sustainability forum in February, following a successful symposium in November 2016 that asked, How Green Can Wilton Be?
The event drew speakers and representatives from a number of organizations, including Seven Generations Ahead, Trout Unlimited, Woodcock Nature Center, Norwalk River Watershed Association, Wilton Land Conservation Trust, Wilton Energy Commission, The Montessori School, and Wilton Go Green.
Wilton Go Green also held its annual festival in May.
In an effort to make Wilton greener from top to bottom, so to speak, a group of conservation proponents joined together to create the Pollinator Pathway, a corridor of green spaces large and small that provide pollinator-friendly plants and watering stations, free of harmful chemicals, to sustain bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.
The pathway is a joint project of the Wilton Land Conservation Trust, Woodcock Nature Center, Norwalk River Watershed Association, Wilton Garden Club, and Wilton Go Green.
Such a greenway can help as towns become more and more developed, and native plants are frequently elbowed out by invasive species. Many native plants have evolved with certain insects, making them the sole host plants for those insects.
After an introductory program in the spring, the pathway proponents offered a butterfly walk, bee hotel workshops, and plantings of native species at the chess park in Wilton Center.
Also jumping on the pathway was Cub Scout Pack 17, which planted a pollinator-friendly garden at Hillside Cemetery in April.
Police get new chief
Capt. John Lynch, a 31-year veteran of the Wilton Police Department and a resident of town for 17 years, was sworn in as the new chief of police on April 3. He took over after the retirement of Chief Robert Crosby.
Crosby, who served as chief since Sept. 22, 2015, announced his plans to retire on Jan. 11.
Lynch had been with the Wilton Police Department since September 1985 and was promoted to captain on Dec. 1, 2009.
He began his career as a dispatcher and auxiliary officer. He rose through the ranks and is a strong proponent of community policing.
He started Wilton’s first Community Bike Patrol in 1996. During his career, Lynch has worked in nearly every capacity in the department.
He has a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice and is pursuing a master’s in public administration from Post University.
Lynch graduated from the prestigious FBI National Academy in 2011, and has a wealth of training and experience that will serve him as the department’s next leader.
He is a board of trustee member of the Wilton Historical Society, a volunteer with the Georgetown Fire Department, a previous volunteer with Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and a supporter of A Better Chance, among others.
Brubeck family appeals Inland Wetlands decision
The family of the late jazz icon Dave Brubeck in August filed an appeal in court over a decision of the Inland Wetlands Commission that in effect denied their application to locate potential homesites, septic systems, wells, and accessways on six existing, separate residential lots on Hickory Hill Road and Millstone Road that they have owned since the 1960s.
“During the year-long review process the Brubeck family went to great lengths to revise their plan to be very environmentally sensitive. They made numerous changes and compromises in response to questions and suggestions from the Commission and from the independent expert engineering/environmental consultants selected by the Commission. The Brubeck family even agreed that eight of the twenty acres comprising the six lots would be a permanent conservation area,” said Richard S. Jeweler, trustee of the David W. Brubeck Trust and Iola W. Brubeck Trust, in a statement to The Bulletin.
As a result of those changes and compromises, the town’s independent expert consultants had no material issues with the final plan for the six lots or any objections to it, Jeweler said. But the commission voted otherwise. The board approved significant regulated activities on three lots with conditions, but denied without prejudice the proposed activities on the others.
In view of this situation, the Brubeck family sought judicial review of the commission’s decision. “They look forward to obtaining a court order that will allow them to achieve their goal of providing six environmentally sensitive homesites on their six long-time existing lots,” Jeweler said.
A subdivision was approved there in 1954 and again in 1968.
Part of what complicated the proposal is that the land is the equivalent of two football fields and is full of wetlands, including the Comstock Brook, members said.
Family and friends turned out in large numbers to mourn the passing of Phil Reeves, whose death at age 57 on Feb. 7 was due to cancer. He was a 20-year veteran of the Bridgeport Fire Department, serving as a firefighter, engineer, training officer, safety officer, and battalion chief’s aide.
Along with those from Bridgeport, firefighters from Wilton, Westport, New Canaan, Boston, Fairfield, Waterbury, South Metro, and Connecticut Statewide attended his funeral on Feb. 18 at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
Reeves was also an Army veteran and member of the Massachusetts National Guard. He served two tours in Iraq as a medevac helicopter pilot.
In eulogizing her father, Rebecca Reeves said he told her, “We are all people, and no matter who we are or where we come from, we need to learn about all the people and what we can do to help them.”
Reeves is survived by his wife, Robyn, daughter Rebecca, son Isaac, mother, Sarah, sisters Leslie Kanerva and Cynthia, and brother Ted.
Louise Herot, known for her many acts of civic-mindedness, died at her home on Aug. 22. Among her many contributions to the community, Herot was instrumental in organizing the scholarly series presented for the past 10 years by Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society. She also helped mount the Interfaith Clergy Panel Discussion Series.
She and her husband, Fred, who died in 2016, were honored in 2013 by Wilton Democrats for their years of community service.
Herot had served Wilton as a selectman, member of the Board of Education, trustee of the Wilton Library Association, and member of the League of Women Voters. She also served on two Charter Commissions and as a justice of the peace.
She served as department chair of mathematics for Joel Barlow High School in Redding and also was associated with the Connecticut Academy for Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology and the Connecticut Department of Education.
She is survived by her three children, Christopher, Frederick III, and Amy, grandchildren, Eric, Gregory, and Timothy, as well as Linda and Sydney, who joined the family as wives of Christopher and Eric, respectively.
Paula Reens, who lived in Wilton for 49 years, died on April 22. She had been an art director for some 20 years at her Branchville Soho Art Gallery, assisting many young and established artists over the years, and was the principal force on behalf of Camp PIP’s art show to raise money for its summer camp. She had been a trustee of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, where she initiated an outreach program.
Beyond art, she had been a longtime housing director for the Connecticut Housing Investment Fund and for Dr. Appleby’s Action Housing organization for some 15 years. She helped thousands of minority families into housing using conventional financing.
Before her death, Reens and her husband, Lou, had decided to donate 50 paintings from the Branchville gallery to be sold to benefit Wilton Library. They went on display in June and all were sold.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by her sons Daniel and Brian, daughters-in-law Susan and Yefat, grandchildren David, Philip, David-Yair, Ester Tamar, and El Dad, and great-grandson Nathan.
The Bulletin suffered a loss with the death of Lois Alcosser, who died July 8.
A graduate of Barnard College, she had a successful career as a copywriter for many prominent New York advertising agencies, including Doyle Dane Bernbach, Altman Stoller Weiss, and Grey Advertising.
More recently, she was a correspondent for The Bulletin and also a contributor to The Bulletin’s Arts & Leisure section.
She is survived by her daughter Melinda and her husband Patrick Smith, her son Andy and his wife Rachel, and her grandchildren, Lucy and Jody Smith and Rebecca and Sam Alcosser.
The story that received the most views on The Bulletin website was the obituary for John “Jack” Fields . Also attracting a large number of readers were:
- Town moves to dismiss sexual abuse case; plaintiffs respond.
- Wilton teacher arrested for DUI.
- Wilton man arrested in coach assault.
- Police arrest Wilton High student regarding school threats.
- Letter: Wilton residents — rude with a sense of entitlement.
- Letter: Wilton is great when you get to know us.