Wilton Center Master Plan subcomittee debates balance of history and vision

WILTON — Striking the proper balance between Wilton's historic past and its economic future was the central challenge discussed at Thursday night's Planning and Zoning Commission's Wilton Center Area Master Plan Subcommittee meeting.

With a public forum scheduled for March 31 — one aimed at gathering public feedback in crafting the future look of Wilton's downtown area and the adjacent stretch of Route 7 to the east — officials and consultants continue to collect information and entertain input.

“I think the goal here is, ‘How do we redevelop this section and how do we foster a development along this section that is balanced?’” Richard Tomasetti, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said during a discussion specific to Danbury Road between Wolfpit and Pimpewaug Roads.

The area under consideration in the plan includes this stretch of Danbury Road. To the west, it includes downtown from east of Merwin Meadows Park on the north end, down to just east of Bradley and Horseshoe Parks to the west, just above Route 106.

"Scale, scale, scale," implored Allison Sanders, chair of the Historic District Commission, in relation to a plan that will ultimately draft the vision and roadmap of what Wilton looks like through the century. "One of our most prevailing concerns is the sense of scale.”

She noted that, if one had any concern about saving an old building at all, one then had to look at the scale of new structures in relation to it.

She said that her commission went back and reviewed the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development in detail, as well as related surveys, and found that more than 70 percent of those offering feedback felt that maintaining Wilton's historic buildings, landscapes and vistas was of importance.

“I see it consistently through the POCD,” she said. “There really is a lot of concern and value placed on our historic landscapes.”

Sanders described Wilton's “sense of place” as being rooted in New England and detailed with features like mature trees, stone walls and the scale of buildings to one another.

While he voiced some agreement with her, Tomasetti indicated that they were not completely on common ground with regard to Wilton's future.

“I love old buildings, but not all old buildings,” he said. “I don't think every building needs to be preserved ... and that's a debate we can all have.”

He said that the relevant section of Danbury Road, which includes the Wilton Historic Society and, according to Sanders, 14 historic buildings, “needs to be as dynamic as Wilton Center and I think we have the opportunity to do that.”

“We are not here, in my view, to create a museum along Danbury Road,” he said, noting that the older buildings “can and will coexist with those other buildings in that area.”

Sanders and HDC Vice Chair Lisa Pojano provided the subcommittee with some research it conducted, including a range of suggestions on how its historic inventory along this section of Route 7 could be incorporated into new projects.

“We're here to partner,” Pojano said. “We're here to share our thoughts ... and we're very excited about all the opportunities."

Tomasetti spoke favorably of opportunities for hybrid projects, citing 200 Danbury Road as an example combining the old and new.

“We gave new life to that site,” he said. “We gave new life to that historic building ... while offering the property owner and the developer some incentives to do that.”

He said, however, that the town needed to be “serious about the economics” as they relate to new developments and projects and have to be very careful when discussing scale.

{I appreciate your take on it, but I think we need to be really careful how we judge,” he said.

Sanders pointed out that, along with many residents, some developers have ironically been drawn to Wilton because of its look in relation to historic sites and vistas.

"We don't need to look like Norwalk," she said. "There's no value in that. We need to look like Wilton."

For more information on the master plan, visit https://www.wiltoncenterareamasterplan.com