Wilton planners rebuff senior housing zoning request

An old, undated photo shows a sign indicating the beginning of Cannondale at Gregory's Sawmill on Danbury Road.

An old, undated photo shows a sign indicating the beginning of Cannondale at Gregory's Sawmill on Danbury Road.

Contributed photo / Peter Snyder

A request for a zoning change that would allow another congregate housing development in Wilton ran into some headwinds at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Oct. 15.

MNG Equities, LLC owns property at 2 Pimpewaug Road. Brightview Senior Living is under contract to purchase the property as well as adjoining property at 24 Pimpewaug Road, with the intent to build a congregate and assisted-living housing development.

At present, congregate and assisted-living housing is allowed in all zoning districts subject to frontage requirements on Danbury, Westport and River roads. Congregate housing is also allowed on Station Road.

In order to move forward with an application to develop the property, MNG has requested several text changes to the town’s zoning regulations.

The main request seeks to change the frontage requirement from 50 feet to 100 feet on Danbury Road provided the proposal includes the preservation of a historical and/or architecturally significant building. According to the request, the development must also front on a roadway that provides direct vehicular access from the site to Danbury Road.

Additional requested changes are:

 Increasing density from 12 to 24 units per acre.

 Allowing a maximum height of three stories and 39 feet.

 Reducing parking regulations from one space per housing unit to 0.65 spaces.

 Reducing affordable housing units from 20 percent to 10 percent.

In support of his argument for these changes, attorney Casey Healy of Gregory and Adams cited allowances for Sunrise Senior Living, which has completed construction on Danbury Road.

Vice Chair Rick Tomasetti, who ran the meeting in the absence of Chairman Scott Lawrence, responded by saying “These applications are discretionary on our part. As I see this, I see a piece of property that currently does not comply with the use you’re proposing, and you’re looking to change a regulation to accommodate that with some other modifications in place.”

He reminded the applicant the commission “just went through a fairly rigorous planning process with the Plan of Conservation and Development that points us in a direction of reforming some of our regulations and points us in the direction of undertaking master planning or mapping exercises. So I would ask you the question, why would we go about today on one application to move forward with something of this magnitude before we actually did our work in terms of the master plan?”

Spot zoning?

He said these changes were much more substantive than other changes that have come before the commission in recent memory.

Using Wilton Heights at 300 Danbury Road as a case in point, Tomasetti said that was a permitted use in that zone and what was requested was not “a wholesale change.”

Tomasetti said he viewed MNG’s request almost as spot zoning.

Healy disagreed and added the POCD encourages expanding “housing options for all stages of life.”

Tomasetti said yes, but at this time the town has a “fair number” of facilities like this but not a lot of options for younger residents. In fact, Wilton has the highest number of senior housing units with 439 than any of its neighboring towns.

Commissioner Melissa-Jean Rotini pointed out the POCD “clearly states preference for location on major byways for these types of high-density housing. You’re doubling the density here.”

She was also concerned about the effect on neighbors on a residential road that would be used to access Danbury Road.

Commissioner Christopher Pagliaro said, “regardless of frontage I’m not comfortable sitting here looking at massing and height changes without really understanding what we want to do with the master plan.”

Some of the requested text changes are due to an effort to preserve a historic home on the site. MNG had investigated purchasing a strip of land from the town that would have given it the needed frontage, but a title search revealed the actual owner of that property is unknown.

A report on the request prepared by the Planning and Zoning Department said, “Though the preservation of the town’s historic resources represents a worthy undertaking, the request does not address the broader concern of discouraging uses that, by their size, density and operations, may begin to compromise the quality of life for others.”

When Healy asked about the timing of working on a master plan, Tomasetti said the commission was planning to take it up in the next fiscal year, but it needs a budget and approval for a consultant. Mapping of Danbury Road zoning is a first step, he said.

“I really want our process to take place,” he said. “For far too long, we’ve been reactionary on things like this. We have to draw a line in the sand and say what do we want of our community?”

Public comment

Public comment was largely negative. Given that the development would be visible from his property on Powder Horn Hill Road, Robert Nordquist was concerned about home values.

Jennifer Longmire, who lives on Cannon Road, said she was concerned about how it would look. “I disagree with the regulation change. From what I understand it’s going to be looming over the neighbors.” Cannondale, she said, “is a very historic area and charming area. I’m not sure it’s the right place for it given the size and scope.”

Mark Froelich of Pimpewaug Road said the development is “not in line with what the community of Wilton needs, what the residents like myself want. … You are well within your rights to say no,” he said to the commission. “It’s not appropriate to put it there.”

Barbara Geddis said, “if you ask for six text changes, something’s wrong.”

The public hearing will be continued at the commission’s next meeting on Oct. 28.