Could the town bring Cannondale together?

Though some short-term goals were announced by the Economic Development Commission at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, it emphasized the need for all aspects of Wilton’s town government to focus on the “10-year horizon.”

“I personally believe you can do those short-term things, but if you don’t put the effort in the 10-year horizon [you’ll regret it],” Commissioner Nick Davatzes told selectmen on Tuesday, Sept. 2. “We are in a position to attract people in terms of available employees that would no longer have to commute to Stamford or Norwalk, and we have some transportation, but we have to be advocating [for the 10-year plan].”

Of greatest import to the town, the commission said, is a consensus between zoning and executive officials on a development plan for the “commercial corridor,” or Route 7 from the Gateway Shopping Center in the south to Cannondale.

“We have to decide what we want on the corridor, and we cannot do that on an ad hoc basis,” Mr. Davatzes said.

“Things may require a public-private partnership, from beautification to architectural design. We should be proud of the growth of the commercial sector [from 11% to 14% in the past five years], but that may not sustain itself.”

An example of an area prepared for a public-private partnership is historic Cannondale, said Commissioner Lee Wilson, as its kind of open retail space is rare in Fairfield County.

“A chance exists in Cannondale. From a timing standpoint, it’s owned by a group of three owners getting on in their years, who are all desirous of doing something,” he said.

“It’s a 35-acre site in Fairfield County served by a state highway with great topography, all public utilities — including Yankee Gas — a railroad, a river, and a group of historic buildings worth saving. That’s a piece of magic and it needs to be addressed in cooperation with the Planning and Zoning Commission.”

In his opinion, the town could fill a void in Cannondale, acting as the entity that brings the owners of the properties together “in a way that makes sense for the town, and so the person putting most of the money into it doesn’t feel like it’s going down a hole.”

Short-term goals

In terms of actions that can be taken by the town within the next few months, the commission had a limited array of suggestions.

A $10,000 website approved by the Board of Selectmen earlier this year is in development, and should begin functioning within 60 days, economic development chairman Peter Gaboriault said.

That website will act as a welcome page for commercial entities interested in moving to Wilton, and will include information about the town, and links to the area’s major commercial listing services.

The commission also suggested the implementation of a “rapid response team” to spring to action when a major national corporation announces plans to leave Wilton, or prepares to purchase land in town.

From the Board of Selectmen’s perspective, Selectman Dick Dubow said he thought three things should be done by the Economic Development Commission in the near future:

  • Schedule a workshop with the Planning and Zoning Commission about a 10-year plan, the commercial corridor, and Cannondale.
  • Put together a “broad-strokes” budget for next year’s plans and projects.
  • Help write a job description for a part-time economic development executive.

Fate of the commission

The Board of Selectmen must fill four empty spots on the Economic Development Commission, and members said they plan to add more specialized volunteers, as well as a representative from the Chamber of Commerce.

As a number of economic development commissioners prepare to leave their tenure on the board, Mr. Gaboriault and Mr. Davatzes stressed to selectmen the need to “prioritize skill sets” when selecting new members for the commission.

“We had too many general managers who run companies. We didn’t have enough specific skill sets,” Mr. Davatzes said, noting the need for members with writing, marketing, and Web development skills.

In addition to an overall lack of specialization, the commission also requested access to a regular budget for projects and planning and suggested the town consider hiring a part-time economic development executive to help run the town’s outreach programs.

“If you want to make it happen, you need a full-time person, or a part-time person,” Mr. Davatzes said. “You’re just going to have to bite that bullet. We started with nine, and only five of us made it to the end.”