'Art House' proposal offers affordable housing option in Wilton

WILTON — The town may see a new addition to its affordable housing inventory if a proposal made at the most recent Planning and Zoning meeting were to be approved.

The commission is mulling the proposal, which is still in the public comments period, and, on Monday, offered some points of possible concern — in part, the issue of parking.

The proposal would see a mixed-use building be converted into an 18-unit apartment building, with six units being designated as affordable housing in accordance with Connecticut General Statute 8-30g. Gregory Clark, who owns the site at 2 Hollyhock Road, at the intersection of Danbury Road, told the commission that the building’s office spaces were no longer delivering practical use with business tenants struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We lost about half our tenants once COVID-19 hit in March,” Clark said. “We decided to rethink what would be the best use of the building.”

Clark continued, saying he had to strategize with input from the right sources. He spoke to the Board of Selectmen and Michael Wrinn, the town planner and director of planning and land use management, who was also present at the virtual meeting. After deliberating with town officials, Clark felt the best use would be to convert the former commercial property into an apartment complex with six affordable housing units, which he has named “Art House.”

According to Clark’s submitted plans to the town, 12 units will be studio apartments and six will be two-bedroom apartments. The initial proposal, submitted last year, included one-bedroom apartments, but was nixed. Clark told Chairman Richard Tomasetti that it was a conscious decision after having done multiple studies.

As it stands, the half-acre site has three floors and a basement. The basement will include a laundry room and a bicycle storage room. It also has a parking lot on site that will house 23 spaces. With 18 apartments, and a third of them being two-bedroom units, some members of the commission questioned whether every tenant would be afforded a spot.

Tomasetti procured questions from his fellow commissioners for Clark on his proposal.

“I am really concerned about the parking. I think it is really impractical to tell people who would be renting a studio that they can’t have a car,” Commissioner Doris Knapp said. “How are you supposed to get to a store? There is nothing around there. How do you provide for basic necessities if you can’t access a car.”

Clark stated that, according to a study done by the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the site would require 19 spots. He pointed out that it currently has 23. He also said that five additional spots along the curb for “visitor” parking would be a possibility. He spitballed, saying that a $75 per month forgiveness for two of the studio renters who chose not to have a car was possible, but likely “not even necessary.”

A letter was submitted by another property owner on Hollyhock Road to the commission and read aloud by Wrinn during the meeting, citing concerns that “designating a percentage of apartments to be car-free may not be practical in present-day Wilton.”

Tomasetti said, with alternate parking options available, he did not think tenants would be told they would have to forego having a car. He added that he did not want to make this a condition of the commission’s approval.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Melissa-Jean Rotini said she wasn’t overly worried about the parking.

“I appreciate that you are coming in with a large affordability percentage,” she said of the 30 percent rate.

Further points brought up by the Planning and Zoning Commission included a request for more specific plans of lighting outside of the building and the parking lot by Commissioner Christopher Pagliaro, further plans to create walkways by Tomasetti, as well as the issue of pedestrian safety at the intersection of Danbury Road and Hollyhock Road.

Tomasetti ended the session by asking Clark and his architect, Douglas Murphy, to provide further plans to the commission and reconvene at the next regular Planning and Zoning meeting.