Wilton Planning and Zoning candidates look to future development

WILTON — With eight people on stage, it was a crowded field at the Wilton League of Women Voters’ forum for Planning and Zoning Commission candidates on Oct. 29 at Wilton Library. This was the final forum presented by the league before Election Day on Nov. 5.

The candidates for a full four-year term included incumbents Rick Tomasetti and Matthew Murphy, both Republicans, and Unaffiliated Melissa-Jean Rotini. Also on the Republican slate is Jake Bittner, Unaffiliated.

The Democrats are Florence Johnson and Rem Bigosinski.

Running for a two-year term are Democrat Peter Squitieri and Republican Jill Warren.

Two issues that came up involved a future master plan for some of Wilton’s commercial areas and balancing rural character with development. Affordable housing, which the town will likely need to address since its moratorium is coming to an end, was also an issue.

Johnson placed an emphasis on community engagement and the importance of letting everyone have a voice in creating a master plan, which she said is essential for Wilton to move forward. “We’ve fallen behind in town amenities,” she said. A master plan would allow the town to look at zoning and how that might incentivize mixed-use development to bring in enough people to support businesses, restaurants and retail.

On affordable housing, she said that is just one aspect of bringing in needed diverse housing stock. Not everyone wants a large house, she said, and more choices could bring in young professionals as well as empty nesters.

Tomasetti said the Plan of Conservation and Development doesn’t talk about a master plan for the whole town. “We have commercial zones that are under-performing. We need to increase population modestly,” he said. Areas where the town needs to find a better balance are along Route 7 and in Wilton Center.

Tomasetti is not a fan of the affordable housing statute because it takes away local control, but it is a reality, he said. He would prefer “to work with our representatives to change the law to make it more realistic for communities to solve problems.”

Bigosinski erroneously referred to the master plan as a look ahead to the next 10 years, which is actually the function of the POCD. However, if elected, he said he would work to ensure Wilton’s New England charm is preserved or enhanced. He would like to see the Norwalk River play a greater role in enhancing Wilton Center and added improved signage and pedestrian connectivity throughout town is needed.

Bigosinski cited the town’s need for affordable housing but said it should be in proper areas for transit-oriented development.

On the master plan, Rotini said it should focus on commercial zones and ensure they are accessible to Route 7 and Wilton Center. The smaller villages — Cannondale and Georgetown — need “development that makes sense.”

To take the fear out of affordable housing, she said “We have options … to have appropriate zones where we can have higher density.”

Murphy said a master plan will help the town be “forward thinking on properties to be developed to keep the charm of the town. Not a fan of affordable housing, he said of future applications, “we will look at them and if there’s a good fit that will be great. If not, there are ways to work around issues.”

Squitieri said he does not feel affordable housing is as great a threat and many people believe since “a lot of federal funding is drying up.” Also, the income limits make such housing unattractive to many developers.

He sees the Planning and Zoning Commission as a shepherd for the master plan that will help the town decide “how we’re going to keep development from affecting our rural character but create enough development to grow the grand list.”

Bittner warned that master planning is “a very slow game.” He pointed out the plan is critical since “the towns around us have an identity Wilton lacks,” comparing it to “a sprawling noodle that goes up Route 7.”

On affordable housing he said it is important to remember “you’re talking about some pretty well off people that can be part of the community” such as artists.

Warren said people should remember affordable housing could be a benefit to “people just out of college,” adding her options in Wilton are extremely limited.

She also said for a young person like her, schools are not the draw, but the town’s historic areas are. Planning and Zoning “has the opportunity to grow these areas and make them more attractive to a younger generation,” she said.