The Democratic candidates for Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission are on the same page when it comes to important issues facing the commission.

At a roundtable event with The Bulletin, Democrats Florence Johnson, Rem Bigosinski and Peter Squitieri expressed support for taking a balanced approach to future development in Wilton while maintaining the town’s rural character and quality of life.

To that end, they agreed the most important issue facing the commission is turning Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) into a comprehensive master alan.

“Going from a POCD to a master plan is a big task, and should be done with proper public input and proper consultation with experts to get it done fairly quickly,” Squitieri said.

Johnson added it was important to make sure the regulations in town support the direction of the master plan.

Wilton Center

The candidates agreed there is a need for some master planning in Wilton Center. But one of the first issues, they said, is trying to find the center itself.

“When you come up Route 7 from Norwalk, there is no definition of where Wilton starts and stops. We need better signage, with “Welcome to Wilton” signs at all major accesses to town, as well as better signage of Wilton Town Center. The town center is there, but nobody knows it is there. Conversations about signage in town are not very well articulated. We need to do a better job at it,” Bigosinski said.

Squitieri agreed. “Wilton Center did not seem like a distinct place to me until I had lived in town for six months. More could be done to make it an easier place to see,” he said.

“Signs are an opportunity to connect people to things in Wilton,” Johnson said. “It’s not apparent from Route 7 where Wilton restaurants and small businesses are. Wilton Center is important to the community, we can do better.”

Wilton Center itself could use more connectivity to better accommodate residents and visitors, Johnson said.

Bigosinski would like to see a more vibrant town center. He considers the Norwalk River an overlooked cultural, environmental and economic asset. With some planning, he said, the river has the potential to attract more people to restaurants and retail services.

“The Norwalk River goes through town and is not really acknowledged as an asset. You don’t even know when you are on River Road that there is a river next to it. A lot of businesses back up to it,” he said.

He also mentioned a “disconnect” between Wilton Center and the Town Campus on Route 7 which houses Wilton Town Hall, the police and fire stations, and other town offices. In a lot of towns, he said, the town hall is in the town center, which is not the case in Wilton. “Eventually, this has to be master planned at some point,” he said.

He and Johnson also expressed support for completion of the pedestrian bridge at the train station as another asset to the town center.

Underutilized/mixed use

In a discussion of commercial development, Squitieri said he would like to see improvement of underutilized commercial properties in South Wilton which are not performing well and do not look like they belong in Wilton.

“With some planning, those properties could make the town more attractive and increase the grand list,” he said.

In that regard, Bogisinski discussed a pending P&Z application in Norwalk which would allow an industrial building to have a trade school operate in it. “I thought that was an innovative approach to filling up underutilized space. Wilton has a lot of commercial space which could have potential use for something like that,” he said.

Johnson supports mixed-use retail-residential development for some commercial properties in town. “I have suggested at prior planning and zoning meetings that Wilton should be considering mixed-use, smart growth overlay zones in areas with access to water, sewer, and transportation.”

She said mixed-use could include residential, along with some professional, retail, and commercial uses. “With good planning, there would be more intense uses nearer the main thoroughfare perhaps, then some setback requirements so the intensity lessens before it reaches a change in zone that would be primarily residential,” she said.

Bigosinski said mixed-use, higher density development which is appropriate in scale, might be good for the Georgetown and Cannondale areas too.

When it comes to the Cannondale section of Wilton, Squitieri said it needs more focus because the parameters of the Cannondale area not well-defined, so people do not know its limits, where it starts and how far it extends. “This should be taken up in the master plan,” he said.

Public

To engage better with the public on planning and zoning issues, Squitieri suggested P&Z hold meetings which draw large crowds in a bigger room.

The group noted some P&Z meetings attract a lot of people with standing-room-only capacity. The meetings also tend to run late into the night.

“Some people have to stand for hours. Those meetings should be shifted to a bigger venue to encourage public participation,” Squitieri said.

Johnson also chimed in with dealing with the public.

“I spend a lot of time talking to people in different age groups around town,” she said. “You have to be engaged with the community to find out where the opportunities are and get input from the community as to what they see as their vision. I think the POCD was a great start for that. But that is something we should be doing continuously. As a commissioner, it is helpful to be a good listener, not only to the applicants, but to the community that comes to speak at the meetings,” she said.

Candidates

Florence Johnson grew up in Wilton and is running for a full four-year term. In addition to historical knowledge of the town, she has formal training in drafting and landscape design.

Rem Bigosinski is also running for a full four-year term. A Fulbright Fellow and landscape architect, he previously served as an alternate on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Peter Squitieri is running for a two-year term. A business owner, he is the managing member of Data Systems of New Canaan.

“This is a very strong team,” Squitieri said. “Putting us all on the Planning and Zoning Commission would be the best idea.”

pgay@wiltonbulletin.com