The headlines of 2018
Just as the national news media has been kept busy this year, so has The Bulletin. It seems even during the summer, when news generally slows down, Wilton was humming with activity. Here are some of the more memorable events of the year, in no particular order.
Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development has been a work in progress over the course of 2018 and an initial draft was delivered to the Planning and Zoning Commission in September. It was the result of months of work, including public workshops and surveys in which residents gave their views on a range of topics.
Updated every 10 years, the POCD encompasses a number of issues that will influence Wilton over the coming decade, including demographics, housing, land use, community facilities, infrastructure, economic development, open space, recreation, transportation, and sustainability.
One tidbit that emerged in an online survey with more than 300 respondents, was the Norwalk River Valley Trail was voted as Wilton’s most popular amenity.
At the direction of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the research, community engagement and plan preparation was undertaken by consulting firm Milone and MacBroom. It is expected to be completed in early 2019.
Girl Doe molestation suit
The sexual molestation lawsuit brought against the town and Board of Education by the parents of a former Miller-Driscoll preschool child was settled in May, just days before jury selection for a trial was to begin.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice confirmed the parties had reached a settlement. “The town’s insurance carrier has chosen to settle the lawsuit,” she told The Bulletin. “The town is not contributing funds to the settlement.”
Filed in 2015, the suit, Girl Doe PPA v. Wilton Board of Education Et Al, revolved around a Wilton family’s allegations their daughter was molested while a preschool student at Miller-Driscoll School.
The family claimed the girl, referred to in court documents as Girl Doe, while in preschool at Miller-Driscoll, was molested in 2012 by former paraprofessional Eric Von Kohorn, who later was incarcerated on child pornography charges. He has since been released.
The town and school district admitted no responsibility.
The attorney who represented the family, Paul Slager of the Stamford law firm Silver Golub & Teitell, is representing another family that is suing the town and Board of Education on behalf of their son, who was a preschool student at Miller-Driscoll. That lawsuit alleges Von Kohorn took photos of the boy when the child was in the bathroom.
A settlement has been offered on the part of the plaintiffs, but the town has filed a motion for summary judgment.
Jury selection and a possible trial in that case are scheduled for Aug. 21, 2019, in Stamford Superior Court.
To honor the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wilton High School students and staff participated in a 17-minute, student-led walkout the morning of March 14 .
Participants were encouraged to wear orange, the color of solidarity against gun violence; and at least four Wilton police officers were present.
Senior and walkout organizer Emily Kesselman said the walkout was not only to show solidarity with those killed at Stoneman Douglas — it was also a message that “our generation is done with gun violence and done feeling unsafe in our own schools.”
“Though this mass shooting happened 1,000 miles south of us,” Emily said, she and others at Wilton High School wanted to “take [a] few moments to demonstrate how close to home this tragedy really is.”
Wilton High School wasn’t the only school in town to participate in a 17-minute walkout that day — 640 Middlebrook students did as well.
The midterm election was an upset for those rooting for Republican Toni Boucher, of Wilton, who lost the race for Connecticut’s 26th State Senate District seat to 22-year-old Democrat Will Haskell, of New Canaan, by more than 2,000 votes.
It was the first election Boucher had lost since being elected as a state representative in 1996. She was seeking her sixth term as state senator.
Republicans Gail Lavielle, of Wilton, and Tom O’Dea, of New Canaan, were re-elected to Connecticut’s 143rd and 125th House District seats, respectively, this November.
Lavielle was challenged by Democrat Stephanie Thomas, of Norwalk. Lavielle received nearly 400 more votes than Thomas, solidifying her fifth term in the state House.
Democratic Wilton resident Ross Tartell ran against O’Dea and lost by a little more than 1,500 votes. This will be O’Dea’s fourth term in the state House.
The GOP may have held Wilton’s House district seats, but the Democrats won other races. In the heavily contested race for governor, for example, Democrat Ned Lamont narrowly beat Republican Bob Stefanowski.
Democrats also took all five of the U.S. House seats in Connecticut, and Democrat Chris Murphy held his U.S. Senate seat. Democrat William Tong was elected Connecticut’s new attorney general, Denise W. Merrill was re-elected secretary of the state, Shawn Wooden was elected Connecticut’s treasurer, and incumbent Democrat Kevin Lembo was re-elected the state’s comptroller.
Wilton Wellness Center
The Wilton Wellness Center , a state-of-the-art medical facility, opened at the former long-abandoned office building at 249 Danbury Road this August, following a multi-million-dollar improvement project.
The facility has a long-term 15,000-square-foot lease with the Western Connecticut Medical Group, Inc., an affiliate of the Western Connecticut Health Network, to serve as anchor. Western Connecticut Medical Group will provide primary care services at the facility, including internal medicine, family care, women’s services and urgent care.
An additional 35,000-plus-square-feet of medical space on the second and third floors at the new medical center will also be leased.
When the building opened on Aug. 6, Jonathan Garrity, president and chief executive officer of Cambridge Hanover Group, the owners and developers of the building, gave a tour to Wilton officials including members of the Economic Development Commission.
There’s no other building like it in the company’s portfolio, and building it filled a void in the area, so to speak, Garrity said during an interview.
“Norwalk Hospital had a requirement, and we were in discussions to fill that requirement. Norwalk Hospital is taking up a third of the building for primary care,” Garrity said. “This is totally a medical facility.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission has held numerous public hearings this year on applications submitted by Wilton Heights, LLC, which is proposing to redevelop 300 Danbury Road and several properties on Whitewood Lane with mixed-use buildings consisting of retail space and residential units.
The project’s developer, Paxton Kinol, has received an outpouring of support for his project from residents — including 142 who signed a petition in support of the project distributed by resident Jeff Kaplan, as well members of the Economic Development Commission — but his project has also raised some concern.
For example, Wilton’s Historic District and Historic Property Commission expressed concern about two historic structures at 300 Danbury Road: the Betts-Comstock House and the 19th-Century Comstock Corn Crib.
At the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Nov. 13 public hearing on Wilton Heights LLC’s application, historic commission chair Allison Sanders said that the developer’s plans, as proposed, included the demolition of the two structures.
“From the loss of historic structures and the radical reshaping of the landscape, to the overscale height and massing shown on the plan,” Sanders said, the historic commission has found several “troubling aspects to the proposed design.”
Salem Road resident Rhoda Dix also expressed some concern about the project. At the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Nov. 26 public hearing, Dix said she worries that the proposed development would overshadow Wilton Center.
Dix said the proposed development “looks nice,” but she thinks it would be better in Wilton Center. When it comes to new development like Wilton Heights, Dix said, the town should think about the effects on the center of town.
The Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing on Wilton Heights, LLC’s special permit application has been continued to Jan. 14.
The idea of a proposed roundabout got tossed about at a public hearing this past spring.
Wilton residents were vocal in their opposition to a proposed roundabout for the intersection of Belden Hill Road and Wolfpit Road at a public hearing held by the Department of Transportation (DOT) on June 5.
The state identified the Belden/Wolfpit area for construction of the roundabout in order to ease traffic congestion. A high number of crashes were reported in that area in the past three years, with 19 accidents, three of which resulted in injuries.
The crowd was shown a slide presentation at the public hearing about the safety of modern roundabouts. DOT engineer Marissa Washburn explained the difference between a modern roundabout and a traditional traffic rotary. A roundabout has raised islands that force vehicles to bear to the right to enter.
No more than three cars would be backed up at a time waiting to enter the roundabout, she said. There would be far fewer crashes, and of lesser severity, she said, because of the safety design.
Residents made it clear they do not want the roundabout. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice initiated a show-of-hands poll of the audience and found that most of them wanted the state to look for a way to get traffic volume off Belden Hill Road. For example, by streamlining traffic flow on Route 7.
One of the outspoken neighborhood residents, David Cristini, formed a closed group on Facebook, Belden Hill Roundabout, to share information about the project.
Wilton business ASML announced a $100-million expansion at its facilities on Danbury Road. It is expected to create 500 new engineering and manufacturing jobs for the world leader in computer chip lithography machines. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited ASML offices at 60 Danbury Road Feb. 8 to help celebrate the expansion — which includes office and manufacturing space — expected to be complete within two years. The expanded office and manufacturing areas will add more than 45,000 square feet of work space across three floors.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (CT-4th) helped celebrate the groundbreaking of the first phase of the expansion — a 700-space parking garage — in May.
A tour of a new test facility showcased some of ASML’s operations. Workers demonstrated a high-speed camera that can show the fastest movements in super slow motion. They also demonstrated a 3D printer and laser-testing device that is so accurate it can distinguish a clear view from fog.
ASML was the recipient of a Department of Economic and Community Development grant through Gov. Malloy’s First Five Plus program to support expansion.
Town hall roof leak
A sudden rainstorm on Aug. 1 created a downpour in the town clerk’s office at town hall due to a breach in the building’s roof. Facilities director Chris Burney said water was “pouring into the vault” through a hole in the ceiling due to a seam in the roof that “was wide open.
The vault holds the town’s vital records such as land records, birth and death records, and more. Repair work began in November and was nearly done in mid-December, according to First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice. The cost was approximately $50,000.
This year got off to a fun start at the first-ever Wilton Winter Carnival on Jan. 28 in Wilton Center.
Events included horse drawn carriage rides pulled by a team of furry Norwegian Fjord ponies, an ice sculpting demo by Bill Covitz who created a sparkling seahorse out of a block of ice with his chainsaw, and a scavenger hunt.
Visitors to Schenk’s Island were greeted by Olaf and penguin characters and were rewarded with hot chocolate and a marshmallow roast.
Food trucks and restaurants offered all kinds of tasty food and visitors could sample and vote on their favorite bowl of red at the Chili Cook Off.
The carnival was presented by the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, with title sponsor Fairfield County Bank.
Instead of being printed on a page, the words of 20 books were spoken during Wilton Library’s Human Library event on March 24.
That’s because the books were people, and nearly 300 people came to read them.
With the theme of Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, the Human Library was a program where two people engaged in brief but meaningful conversations.
For readers, the intent was to help dispel prejudices people may have formed based on someone’s appearance or identity, such as their religion, profession, or sexual orientation. For “books,” in many cases, it was to help erase the stigma of an experience or a disease.
In an effort to show that history is more than just names and dates, the Wilton Historical Society unveiled an installation called Connecticut’s History, Wilton’s Story on April 21.
The installation depicts Connecticut history and American history “and how Wilton fell in the events of the day,” said the society’s co-director Alison Sanders at the time of the opening.
An interactive map in the exhibition features 15 points of interest in Wilton with a corresponding display of artifacts from Colonial times to the 21st Century.
Known as the “Dean of American Cartooning,” Mort Walker died Jan. 27. He was one of the most prolific cartoonists in the history of comics, and creator of Beetle Bailey. He also conceived of Hi and Lois, with scenes of Wilton often making their way into the strip. His son Brian Walker, of Wilton, continues the strip today.
Developer James A. Fieber, who was thrust into local headlines when he attempted to create an age-restricted subdivision at 183 Ridgefield Road, died July 14.
Although his family’s company, The Fieber Group, created a number of well-known developments around the country, Jim Fieber was best known here as owner of 183 Ridgefield Road, which he purchased in 2015. His proposal to build a cluster of upscale, age-restricted, single-family homes was fought vigorously by a group of neighbors. It was then discovered the Planning and Zoning Commission erred in the publication of the zoning changes that would have permitted the development to be considered and the changes were rescinded.
In May, Fieber agreed to sell the property to the Wilton Land Conservation Trust, thus capping a controversial chapter in Wilton land development.
In a press release announcing the sale, Fieber said he agreed to sell the property below his cost basis in order to “preserve this beautiful open space.” The land trust is now raising the funds needed to execute the agreement.
Award-winning radio newsman Dave Barrett, who will be remembered for his wonderful storytelling abilities, died on Sept. 19. An 18-year veteran at the CBS broadcast network, Barrett had won three national Headliner Awards and three Edward R. Murrow Awards for his work.
Barrett covered it all: general news, culture, politics, the military, and sports — including 10 Olympics. He hosted talk shows and was a disc jockey early in his career.
Here at home, Barrett was known for his hobby of baking, entering a number of contests and even participating in the state baking contest where he said, he “and about 100 other people got honorable mention.”