Mormon church seeks Route 7 site

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has entered into a contract to purchase 241 Danbury Road and 23 Cricket Lane — both of which are in a design retail business (DRB) zone — where it plans to build a two-story meetinghouse.

For the meetinghouse project to move forward, an amendment to the town’s zoning regulations was needed, so the church — under the name CH 241 Danbury Road Associates, LLC — submitted an application to the Planning and Zoning Commission seeking to amend Section 29-6.A.2.h.

The commission opened, and closed, a public hearing on the application on Dec. 10, during which Gregory & Adams attorneys J. Casey Healy and Jim Murphy presented on behalf of the applicant.

Under Section 29-6.A.2.h, “public or semi-public uses are permitted in the DRB zone, subject to the requirements of Section 29-5.C.3,” said Healy, noting that a place of worship meets the definition of public or semi-public use in the zoning regulations.

“The subject regulation in section 29-5.C.3 imposes enhanced setback requirements … permitting site coverage and more restrictive parking location environments than are permitted in the design retail business zone, in which the properties at 241 Danbury Road and 23 Cricket Lane are located,” said Healy.

“It’s our collective opinion that a more restrictive provision set forth in the regulations were intended to apply — in this case, to a place of worship — if and only if the place of worship was proposed in a residential district — not a commercial district such as the design retail business or general business.”

The thought process, Healy said, is “Why should a place of worship be subject to more onerous regulations than a bank, a restaurant, a retail business, general office, medical office, et cetera — all of which are permitted in the design retail business zone and the general business zone?”

“We think the title of the section [Section 29-5.C] in the zoning regulations … speaks for itself: Regulations Pertaining to All Residential Districts,” said Healy. “The DRB Zone and GB [general business] Zone are not residential districts.”

During the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Nov. 26 meeting, the applicant sought the commission’s interpretation of Section 29-5.C.3 to see if it did or did not apply to a place of worship in a DRB Zone, according to Healy.

At that time, Healy said, “the commission seemed more inclined that we might be right in our opinion, but the way to correct the problem was to file an application to amend the zoning regulations” — more specifically “to delete the requirement that a public or semi-public use located in a DRB [or] GB Zone subject to the requirements of Section 29-5.C.3, so we did just that.”

In a staff report, the Planning and Zoning Commission suggested that it would consider amending the application to “discount the standards of the DRB … but only for those public or  semi-public uses that comprise a gross floor area of 30,000 square feet or less,” said Healy. The report also states that this threshold “would then be consistent with the maximum allowable area for commercial buildings located in the town’s DRB and GB zoning districts.

Healy said the applicant had “no objection” to the regulation being modified to read: “Public or semi-public uses, subject to the requirements of Section 29-5.C.3, provided that the requirements of Section 29-5.C.3 shall not apply in the event that the building in which the public or semipublic use is proposed has a gross floor area of 30,000 or less square feet.”

After closing the Dec. 10 hearing, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the application. A draft resolution of approval — with agreed upon text modifications — will be prepared for vote at the commission's next meeting on Monday, Jan. 14.

Wilton is a town full of churches, but does not have a Mormon church. The closest one is in New Canaan.