Wilton review board criticizes 89-unit housing plan

WILTON — A new 89-unit housing plan faces an uphill battle in town, as the Wilton Architectural Review Board expressed major concerns with its size and other features at its recent meeting.

“This is my blank canvas, if you will, at the end of my career to incorporate as many things as possible,” said Douglas Cutler, an architect and developer told board members at the July 1 meeting, referring to the building proposal on Danbury Road that is rendered to include many “green” elements.

But he issues, echoed by Chairman Robert Sanders in the pre-application meeting, related to the size of the project, the compilation of material choices and concerns surrounding density. Due to the pre-application status, the developer will have to take the advice of the board, as well as comments from a future Planning and Zoning Commission review, before officially submitting the project.

As currently rendered, the 89-unit residential structure would sit atop a parking lot area and would feature 15 studio apartment units, 47 one-bedroom apartment units and 27 two-bedroom apartment units. Cutler introduced the project as a “four and five story building,” but members rejected that classification when reviewing the height of the “podium building,” as they referred to it.

“By the building code, it says four stories, but in fact, on a podium, it is a five story building, and it gets to six stories in the back,” board member Sam Gardner said. “We see this as a five- and six-story building.”

Sanders said the building would be “wildy taller than anything” in the town.

Part of Cutler’s reasoning for the height of the building, besides density, was the proposed inclusion of solar panels on the roof — one of the building’s environmentally friendly aspects.

Cutler, an over 30-year resident of Wilton and owner of multiple properties, asserted that in order for the solar panels to be most effective, their height would have to break the treeline surrounding the building. The board did not seem to agree with the longtime developer’s assessment.

Sanders also voiced his displeasure for the material choice as it is currently rendered.

“There (is) no relationship between the materials on the base and materials above it,” the chairman said, adding the materials on different levels seem to change arbitrarily” and do not serve to give the building a sense of “unity or attractiveness.”

He added that there are a lot of components of the project that will continue to draw the ire of the board, unless amended.

Cutler, who referenced having millennial tenants in areas with a higher density of younger populations like Greenwich Village, said he has both witnessed and read survey data that points to the younger generation preferring modern developments.

Sanders agreed but said if the buildings were to be modern, “they had better be good buildings” and that “‘junk modern’ is still modern.”

Board member Laura Perese said the project’s intent is on the right path, epxlaining that “this is a wonderful opportunity to really raise the quality level” of the building proposed to celebrate all of the positive aspects, including the “green” elements and the affordability element in compliance with Conecticut’s affordable housing statute.

The current proposal would include 15 percent of the apartments restricted as affordable to people earning no more than 80 percent of the area median income, and 15 percent of the apartments restricted as affordable to people earning 60 percent of the area median income.