Funding sought for Wilton master plan of commercial areas

WILTON — The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Monday, Nov. 23, to seek an as-yet unknown amount of funding from the town over several years to develop a comprehensive master plan centered on the town’s commercial areas.

“The idea is that we’re master planning all of these components in our commercial zone, looking at parking, and looking at our regulations in their totality,” Chair Richard Tomasetti said.

He said the intention is to make the request part of “one package,” though the work would be done in phases over three to seven years, beginning with the area around Wilton Center, then moving on to sections of Route 7, Branchville and Georgetown.

He noted that with the possibility that at least five members of the P&Z could potentially not be on the commission following next year’s election, engaging one design vendor would help foster continuity.

“I think that to the extent that we can obtain a consultant who’s qualified to do the whole kit and a caboodle over a time period, it just makes more sense,” Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini said, noting it would save money and put the town in a better position for a unified end product.

“I think that’s just a better way to do it,” she said.

Michael Wrinn, director of planning and land use management and town planner, is supposed to organize a presentation to the Board of Selectmen that will include some cost estimates.

“One of the very good things we have going for us is you just finished this big master planning process,” he said, referring to the Plan of Conservation and Development, which was adopted on Oct. 1, 2019.

“It’s not that you haven’t met with these folks over and over the last three years or so… The community knows and has spoken out in terms of what they do want,” Wrinn said of the related public input, as well as interactions with town officials.

Last week the P&Z’s subcommittee — which includes Tomasetti, Rotini and member Chris Pagliaro — agreed to recommend to the full P&Z the request to fund the project, and will work directly with Wrinn to present to the Board of Selectmen at some time in the weeks ahead.

He noted that Wrinn has “gone on record” as saying the town needed to update its regulations, and that this process is a key part of that.

“Kudos to the members of the subcommittee,” said P&Z member Peter Shiue.

“I do think that hiring an outside consultant should help with advancing the continuity of this process,” he agreed.

“I think that subcommittee’s role has been great, so thank you all,” member Florence Johnson said.

Rotini said that, though the work of the subcommittee may have reached a conclusion with creating the plan, its work should continue throughout the process, in part to help the staff with its overload.

“I think that there’s still value to the subcommittee because I think this is gonna be a lot of work,” she said.

Tomasetti agreed, noting their work enables the P&Z to hold shorter meetings — something that could help the public engage better.

“I think when they were so lengthy I think we heard a lot of times from the public that it was so difficult to stay for everything,” he said, in relation to development of the POCD.

In terms of the master plan, he explained that other communities have already been engaged in this process, including Ridgefield, and that as Wilton’s plans unfolded they could find ways to work in cooperation with the adjacent towns.

“If you do look at our peer communities they’ve done this sort of thing, (so) it’s time,” Tomasetti said.

“We’re playing catch-up,” he said, noting that other communities are finding development of their plans “critical” to their community development.

Johnson noted that some towns on Wilton’s borders may have different priorities when it comes to development, “so that’s perhaps a tricky thing to consider,” she said, in terms of working on joint planning.

“I actually think this is a good opportunity for shared services,” Rotini said.

Tomasetti pointed out that Weston is currently creating a master plan for higher density residential housing and commercial development on the 70 or so acres around its town center.

“That’s a pretty big deal,” he said, noting this, too, would have an impact on Wilton.

Member Doris Knapp raised the question of whether underground utilities would be part of this work. Wrinn said that while it wouldn’t lead to detailed planning in that area, that information would be important at it related to the larger picture.

“They’re going to look at your utilities very closely,” Wrinn said — in particular the connection to development.

“I’m happy that we’re all sailing in the same direction with this … that everyone’s onboard,” Tomasetti said following the vote.