Wilton pushing for redevelopment of vacant properties into housing, businesses

WILTON — Municipal leaders are leading a push for the redevelopment of vacant and underperforming properties, with the hope of adding new businesses and housing options in town.

The idea, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said Thursday, will complement Wilton and its surrounding towns and offer diverse living spaces that will eventually bring clientele to supplement local businesses.

“We have vacancies,” Vanderslice said. “You want all of your existing space to be filled.”

She said it’s also important for the town to work with site owners on what the best fit for certain locations. Property owners must first determine that their building is underperforming before approaching the town for guidance on redevelopment.

“We want the type of restaurants or businesses or shops that attract people to Wilton Center,” Vanderslice said.

Vanderslice told the selectmen on Monday that Town Planner Michael Wrinn and Coordinator of Community Affairs Sarah Gioffre work closely with these landlords. In addition, Gioffre works with various boards focused on bringing more foot traffic to Wilton. According to Vanderslice, Gioffre communicates regularly with AdvanceCT, the Connecticut Office of Tourism, the Wilton Chamber of Commerce and Parks and Recreation, among others.

Inquiries for a commercial vacancy list in Wilton Center have been sent to Gioffre.

Two properties that Vanderslice highlighted for redevelopment were the Kimco property at 5 River Road and another large vacancy along the same street. The owners of the Kimco building have requested meetings with the Planning and Zoning Commission to request that their vacancies be turned into apartments, she said.

Both the Kimco and other River Road property, the first selectwoman said, used to be national retailers — a Gap and a Chico’s.

The town is currently in talks with another national retailer for a possible location in Wilton, but Vanderslice said she was not ready to disclose the identity of the business.

While nearby towns such as New Canaan and Westport have popular national retail stores, Wilton does not quite have “enough people” for these large companies to warrant adding a second location just miles away, she said. The strength of Wilton, she said, is offering unique shopping and dining experiences with a strong community feel.

Her prime example was Village Market in the heart of Wilton Center.

“Village Market is a big attraction,” she said. “People from New Canaan and Weston come just to shop there.”

More small, locally owned businesses will likely serve the town better, she said.

“People want more restaurants and retail,” according to Vanderslice, but “we need more residents to support them.”

Therein lies one of Wilton’s major focuses since the adoption of its Plan of Conservation and Development in 2019 — pushing for more diversity of housing options.

Vanderslice said the quest for diverse housing options, whether it be apartment complexes or townhouses, attract more residents and help support the local economy.

Along with the request for apartments at the Kimco building in Wilton Center, there are currently multiple housing proposals on the Planning and Zoning docket not far from many of the town’s vital businesses. With the recent approval for a contractor to enact the first phase of a Wilton Center Master Plan in the spring, more connectivity to the central artery of town from these housing proposals via a pedestrian footbridge is in the works.