During Town Planner Bob Nerney’s fiscal year 2017 land-use budget request at the Feb. 1 selectmen’s meeting, Selectman David Clune sparked a dialogue that could extend beyond Wilton’s executive board.
“In recent years, the Planning and Zoning Department has played a greater role in promoting economic development initiatives throughout the community, oftentimes serving as the initial point of contact for prospective businesses who seek to expand or relocate to Wilton,” begins Nerney’s proposal, which can be read at WiltonCT.org.
“You noted in your introductory write-up that you’re often the initial point of contact for businesses considering coming to Wilton,” Clune said to Nerney at the Feb. 1 meeting.
“I [wonder] if there’s a way to see if there’d be more that could be given to you, to help you in that role, if you need the help, or, if there’d be a way to maybe help the Economic Development Commission with that as well. I know that they’ve brought it up a couple of times as something they’d like to think more about.”
While Clune acknowledged that his own remarks could not be constituted as immediate business when made during a budget hearing, Nerney gave him an earnest reply, agreeing that such a dialogue “would serve the town well.”
“I think that’s a very valid question,” he said. “We’re at a point where it’s really a directional question of where we go moving forward.”
“Many communities throughout the state are much more aggressive when it comes to economic development, and historically, I think it’s fair to say that Wilton has not been that way. Quality of life sort of takes precedence [here].”
Wilton is the home of several major international and domestic corporations; Nerney understands that, but in his opinion, the times are changing.
“We certainly have been very successful in years past with attracting a lot of very fine businesses to the community, but it’s becoming more competitive, in not only recruiting prospective businesses but retaining them — that’s also important.”
Perhaps more concerned with the present (and the pending town budget) than the future, First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice joined the discussion. She wanted to know if taxpayers can expect the grand list to grow soon.
“People are looking for flat taxes, which is going to have to come partially through revenue growth. Do you see opportunities?” Vanderslice asked Nerney.
To her question, Nerney replied that, in addition to “a number of other smaller developments going on,” there are several significant projects on the horizon. “Across the street [at 241 Danbury Road], that building is going to be renovated for general medical office space,” he said.
“We have the i.Park development,” he added. “Two-thirds of it is located in Norwalk, but the remaining one-third, and, more importantly, additional vacant land, is located in Wilton.
“So that entity down there has been talking about moving forward with an expansion. There’s been talk over the years about an extended-stay hotel, which would serve the South Wilton business community.”
According to Nerney, fiscal year 2016 has been great for the grand list. He specifically mentioned developmental activity at Breitling USA.
“This past fiscal year has been very successful. Breitling, for instance — that was a business that needed additional space, and actually ended up purchasing the land behind [their 206 Danbury Road location],” Nerney said.
“They’re delighted with their new space, and I would like to hope that they’re happy here in town. We want to try to cultivate that.”
And Breitling isn’t the only expanding Wilton-based corporation. Nerney said the town has that from manufacturing plant ASML to look forward to.
“ASML — that is another company; they’re the largest employer in the town, and they are talking about hiring more people — several hundred. There are parking needs down there today, so there’s talk of trying to do structured parking to try to accommodate that,” he said.
Nerney concluded by agreeing with Clune that the roles Wilton’s land-use departments play in economic development here could, with further discussions, potentially be made to work for the town’s overall economic benefit.
“So I think that’s something that, moving forward — whether it be through the landuse departments or its own separate entity — should be looked at,” Nerney said.
“And it varies,” he added. “Some communities are very aggressive, almost stepping out and playing a developer role in terms of purchasing land, extending utilities, providing tax abatements. Others tend to be less so. But I think that’s a dialogue that would serve the town well.”