Wilton P&Z candidates look to master planning
Undertaking master planning for Wilton is one of the biggest issues facing the Planning and Zoning Commission, according to Republican and unaffiliated candidates seeking election to that board.
At a roundtable event with The Bulletin, Republicans Rick Tomasetti, Jill Warren and Matt Murphy and unaffiliated candidate Melissa-Jean Rotini took a look at the year ahead. Unaffiliated Jake Bittner, who could not attend the meeting earlier this month, weighed in later.
Despite the loss of Chairman Scott Lawrence and Commissioner Bas Nabulsi, and the departure in February of Town Planner Bob Nerney, “we’re moving forward,” Tomasetti said.
The need for a master plan is clear.
“For a long time in town, there’s been, I don’t want to say there’s been an attitude that you can’t do something, because I don’t think that’s fair, but I don’t think necessarily there’s been this, let’s call it vision, about the potential for what could happen — my comments are specific to the downtown and commercial districts — I don’t think there’s been this grand vision of what can happen,” Tomasetti said.
A master plan will “in a positive way change our regulations and change the experience for current and future residents. I think that’s really what this is about,” he said.
Updating the regulations will not only bring about “a better experience for the residents, but at some level will have more collaboration with developers,” Rotini said. “There’s going to be a layout and a process to do certain things in line with what we heard from residents in the POCD, and I think that then we’ll be able to hopefully see growth in a manner that people want.”
When asked about master planning, Bitter told The Bulletin via email that “Wilton for all it’s wonder is a hodgepodge due to outdated planning. Wilton never really adapted to the widening of Route 7. Much of Wilton’s charm made sense when it was a two-lane. … Since Route 7 now flexes from school zones to super speedways crafted to speed traffic through our town, we need to clearly define places worthy of stopping rather than the long thread of commercial curb cuts. The traffic should benefit the town.
“We need to make sure that the vision and the plan are real and the imagined changes are sustainable and realistic changes. Our master plan needs the data to ensure we aren’t building a Norman Rockwell vision with no paying customers,” he said.
Beyond the applications that come before them, some of the issues the candidates would like to take up if elected are signs, parking, and incentivizing preservation.
“Certainly we need to address the signage issues,” Tomasetti said. “We need to bring our regulations into compliance for sure, at least with respect to the First Amendment.
Murphy agreed that this is probably one of the biggest regulatory issues to be addressed, but all of the issues need to be “fit in as we’re doing all the rest of the stuff on our plate.”
“We desperately need to look at our parking regulations,” Tomasetti said. Over the past several years we’ve changed aspects of our parking regulations but we really need to look at it in totality and understand. There’s a lot of new ideas out there in terms of parking and the way things work.”
Taking up affordable housing, with a moratorium ending soon, will be an important subject. “We as a community know it’s in the POCD and it’s an issue we’re going to have to tackle,” he said, adding he would not be surprised if there are one or two properties that already have plans in the works.
“I think we need to understand the necessity of it and the reality of it. I would argue that it doesn’t have to be a negative. We should be able to work with owners … to get any project to be the best we can get it to be.”
“I think there’s a fear surrounding affordable housing that doesn’t need to be there,” Rotini said. “And I think the fear stems from the fact that we need to look at the regulations. We’ve already started on the board with the proposal for the master planning … the fear needs to be taken away and the only way that is done is by having a better plan for what we’re going to do to make it happen as a town.”
Moving forward, Rotini would also like to see a formalized environmental impact statement. “I want that into a formalized methodology. I will put one up if I’m elected. … I don’t feel we get appropriate reviews and I want them.”
Adding to that, Tomasetti said the entire application process needs to be updated, including having applications come in online. This would benefit everyone, he said, including the public and commissioners.
A common request of the commission is approving changes to the zoning regulations at the request of applicants whose projects don’t meet all the town’s requirements. Approval is strictly at the discretion of the commission.
Warren commented with an eye toward bringing in younger residents.
“I would think that implementing better and more efficient and helpful zoning, such as bringing someone in, say my age, into an apartment, feed them into the economy for a few years and then say I want to buy a house, but I don’t need a 5,000-square-foot house for me and my spouse, I just want a smaller house, so in certain areas it could be more appropriate to change it, for certain areas of the town that could be more helpful for a smaller house on smaller land and seam the process from younger 20s to later 20s to having children and putting them through Wilton schools and that way you lengthen the amount of time someone spends in Wilton, growing development over several generations at the same time,” she said.
It all gets back to the master plan.
“The challenge will be developing a plan and adapting the zoning regulations to align with that plan,” Bittner said. “Planning and Zoning is a slow game so clear plans and guidelines are needed to constantly reference where you’re going over years.
“The flip side is that Planning and Zoning really just establishes a plan and a framework. It takes educating and selling that vision to property owners, prospective investors, and residents who will ultimately fulfill this vision. People looking to invest in the work outlined need a clear understanding of what’s desired, how their application will be reviewed, and they have to believe there will be buyers, tenants, or customers.”
Rotini, who is an attorney with municipal experience running for a four-year term, said as an unaffiliated candidate she joined the Republican slate “because I think it is a good combination of qualified people.”
Tomasetti, who is running for a four-year term, is a licensed architect who also owns commercial property in town.
Murphy is also running for a four-year term. He owns commercial property in Greenwich and has dealt with planning and zoning issues in other towns.
Bittner designs luxury homes and also works as a project manager and studio director. He is running for a four-year term.
Warren is a paralegal for an attorney who handles lead paint and medical malpractice lawsuits. If elected to a two-year term, she says she would use her science background to look at applications from an environmental or public health standpoint.