Modern apartment complex proposed behind Wilton's historic Gregory Home still sees pushback from P&Z after third try

Photo of J.D. Freda

WILTON — After returning for a third time, switching architects and revamping many aspects of the site plans, developers of a proposed 156-unit multifamily project on Pimpewaug Road near the historic Gregory Home have yet to garner full support of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Howard Rappaport, a principal with the developer Continental Global Ventures, introduced the team responsible for presenting the newly restructured proposal to the zoning commission on Monday. One name and face that was not present at the two previous pre-application reviews was Chris Lessard, of Lessard Design, based in Virginia. Lessard Design is licensed in Connecticut and worked on the nearby Trump Parc in downtown Stamford.

Lessard revealed renewed site plans and addressed some of the zoning commission’s prior concerns, including the visibility of parking lots between the three proposed buildings, design changes that addressed the property’s frontage with a busy Danbury Road and connectivity to the historic Gregory Home, which the commission challenged developers to work into the proposal.

Three of the most immediately noticeable changes to Lessard’s design from the former two iterations were a shift from three buildings to two, the utilization of parking underneath the buildings and planning for many of the site’s outdoor amenities to be placed near the property’s border near Danbury Road.

P&Z Commissioner Rick Tomasetti liked some of the changes Lessard made, but not the location of the outdoor amenities, including the pool and grilling area.

Tomasetti said he was “not clearly sold” on that as the location for the outdoor amenities, as while there is “good exposure,” he reiterated that Danbury Road is a heavily traveled road with high volumes of cars whizzing by regularly. He said that he thought “most would be uncomfortable” with “that area being the amenity area.”

Lessard argued that the area was “significantly” set back from Danbury Road, roughly 160 feet. P&Z Commissioner Jill Warren explained that she lived just off Danbury Road, about the same setback as the proposed development. “It’s pretty loud,” Warren said.

The next aspect of the proposal that was panned was the incorporation of the historic Gregory Home, which sits just feet away, near Danbury Road.

“You saved the building,” and then it “looks like you built a very tall apartment” complex behind it,” Vice Chairman Melissa-Jean Rotini said of the plans.

Tomasetti agreed. He asked Lessard how the historic home, initially built in 1790, was to relate to the proposed complex directly behind it.

Lessard said that his architectural company has done projects in historical zones, and typically, those areas desire architecture that doesn’t mimic the older architecture, as to highlight the uniqueness of those historical buildings.

Commissioner Doris Knapp said the house sits there “like a sore thumb” and she doesn’t see the connection to the site, while fellow commissioners Matthew Murphy and Florence Johnson agreed. Johnson said that the historic building feels “orphaned” without context.

Warren said that the sight of the small historic home with the large modern building sitting just behind it may fall in line with what many Wilton residents who are hesitant about development fear — “Little Wilton,” as she deemed it, represented by the Gregory Home, with a large looming modern building just steps away.

Disagreeing with some of his fellow commissioners, Christopher Pagliaro, an architect by trade like Tomasetti, called the new proposal a “step in the right direction.” As he has stated in prior preapplication reviews, Pagliaro preached creativity and vision in proposing new developments.

He suggested a few changes, including more creativity in the roof line and possibly changing some of the materials to give it a more “New England” feel. He said a change in material might make the apartment complex and the abutting Gregory Home feel more harmonious.

Some commissioners voiced possible concerns of what nearby neighbors would be looking upon if the proposal were built. As the proposal is still in the preapplication period, the public will not be able to make comment until the process moves to a public hearing.

With a wetlands area in the middle of the site, and various grade changes, Tomasetti admitted that this is a tough property to develop. He did say that he felt the development team “checked off boxes” of prior concerns, and that the commission would like to see more. Scott Gance, on behalf of the development team, said that he believes the proposal 75 to 80 percent of the way to try to achieve what the commission is asking.

“You call them checklists, we listen because they are important,” Gance said. “You don’t say it for no reason at all. They are being said so that we adhere to them or we try our best to.”