Pros and cons again on Wilton Heights

A developer explained to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 11 why affordable rentals are not part of his plan for a two-building, residential-retail development at the Crossways property at the intersection of Routes 7 and 33.

The economics would not work out for affordable rentals at Wilton Heights, but the town could certainly make the most progress in affordable housing if it were to use town-owned land to build an apartment complex, said Paxton Kinol, a spokesperson for Wilton Heights LLC, who has said he expects that the two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments would appeal to both millennials and empty nesters.

Kinol gave a presentation before the Planning and Zoning Commission as part of the application for change of zone from R-1A to Wilton Center District for properties at 3, 7 and 11 Whitewood Lane, and additional properties on Whitewood Lane. The application also wants to amend text on regulations for area and bulk requirements for the Wilton Center District.

The public hearing was continued to Sept. 24. Some neighbors made it clear Sept. 11 they do not support the project.

“Is there a need for additional retail space?” asked neighbor Valerie Pettit, who said there are empty storefronts in Wilton Center, as well as neighboring Westport.

Pettit suggested a study should be done of retail needs in the area, since the only stores that seem to be surviving these days are nail salons, banks and dollar stores, as she put it.

Neighbor Anthony Boccanfuso, who at previous meetings  raised concerns about dynamite in the neighborhood, said the zoning requests were spot zoning.

Boccanfuso’s wife, Alexis Boccanfuso, complained the developer would be using part of her backyard to meet setback requirements.

“I can’t have him using my backyard as a buffer zone,” she said.

Wilton Heights LLC, wants to tear down five existing buildings and replace them with two buildings that would consist of retail space and residential units within a wetland.

Consultants for the project characterized it as an attractive blend of retail and apartments that will feature underground parking, which is less of a threat to the wetlands, and rain gardens, which are good for stormwater runoff and its effect on the wetlands.

However, Boccanfuso and other neighbors said that to build underground parking on bedrock, they will have to do a lot of blasting.

Kinol told The Bulletin “blasting is done on almost every major development in Connecticut.” He said it would not affect the neighbors to the back although they will hear it.

“We don’t need a large charge,” he said, and it will be directed forward, toward Route 7.

There was support for the project, too. Resident Jeff Katlan, who has presented petitions in favor of the project, said, “I know the work of this developer and his quality,” that hundreds of town residents support the project, and that a $40-million improvement of the site will be good for neighbors.

The property has been what some say is an eyesore more than 20 years.

Revised renderings

Wilton Heights LLC, is a partnership of individuals from Fairfield County, that filed plans May 9 with the planning and zoning department for 74 residential units and 15 retail units on the 7.4-acre site. With a downtown-type design, two buildings would house apartments above retail within 1,000 feet of the Wilton train station.

Kinol sent The Bulletin updated renderings of the project based on comments from the Village District Design Advisory Committee, members of Preserve Wilton, and neighbors. One such change is an outdoor gathering space.

One image shows a view of the intersection in which the buildings are at street level, as opposed to the current buildings that are atop a hill.

“We are spending a lot of money to dig the buildings into the side of the hill, developing the front of the parcel and leaving the back undisturbed,” Kinol said. The result will be that the new buildings are only a few feet above the current buildings.