Workshop discusses housing challenges
Housing issues such as the town’s legal requirement to create affordable housing that is 10% of its total housing stock were explored Feb. 22 during a focus meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission on the Plan of Conservation and Development.
About 60 people attended the event at the Trackside Teen Center.
Simply inviting developers to build high-density condominium units isn’t possible at this time because of factors including that 90% of the 1,800 acres of buildable land that remains is zoned for R-2A, two acres per home, according to the report of the town’s consultants on the POCD, Milone & MacBroom.
In other words, zoning changes would be required in certain neighborhoods, and those would be highly limited because high-density housing requires hookups to sewers and water, which is found in only a few places in town. One of them is the Wilton Center area, but as commissioners pointed out Feb. 22, the center is already built out.
Large homes that sit on two acres are by their nature not affordable, commissioners have said in the past. At full build-out under current mostly two-acre zoning, the town could accommodate an additional 767 single-family homes, but that would do nothing to help solve the affordable housing shortage.
Smaller, lower-cost housing units are needed not only to attract new residents, like the millennials, to town but also to accommodate seniors who want to downsize and have been leaving town to do so, according to the consultants.
To that end, the consultants surveyed members of all town boards and commissions on the issue and released the following feedback on what these commissioners think should be done:
- Fiscal impacts of housing development should be considered; the town should promote tax-revenue-positive housing.
- The town should consider age-restricted multi-family housing to allow seniors to remain in town and reduce their cost of living.
- The town should increase transitional housing for millennials, empty nesters and the elderly. This housing should be provided in appropriate areas such as Wilton Center, along Route 7, and near the train stations.
- The town needs to retain existing and encourage development of low-density housing focusing on housing choices in the community based on real needs and market pressures.
To arrive at these results, the consultants considered community data, including a survey of Wilton seniors in 2011 that showed a vast majority, including more than three-quarters of those age 76 and older, live in single-family homes. Two-thirds of people age 55 and older live on property of two acres or more.
Respondents to the senior survey said they were challenged by the limited availability of affordable, appropriate housing, by the overall cost of living in Wilton, by the overall tax burden, and by the unpredictability of future tax levels.
Six out of 10 of the seniors said their projected retirement income would not be enough to allow them to stay in town.
Where do Wilton residents come from? The consultants reported that 51% come from other Fairfield County towns, and 18% come from New York City. A total of 14% come from other places in New York, and 21% come from other states.
Why do sellers leave Wilton? Mostly because of taxes, according to the survey, but also because of the overall cost of living, quality of living, new life stage, satisfaction with the town, and commutability.
High taxes were also the main factor for those who almost moved to Wilton but bought somewhere else, according to the survey charts.
The audience was invited to speak, and shared a variety of opinions about living in town. One woman, Laura Perese, said she lives on six acres in the Cannondale area and wants the town to respect the two-acre zoning that attracted her here in the first place.
Jerry Holdridge, a senior and former selectman, said he was lucky enough to buy a home on half an acre when prices were affordable to him.
“We have to convince people we need affordable housing,” he said, drawing applause from the audience, one of the few comments that elicited such a response.
“I do see a need for more variety in housing choices on the market,” said one woman who said she agreed with Holdridge, and also lives on half an acre.
More than a couple of speakers suggested the Wilton Center area would be the best place for high-density living, perhaps in a mixed-use development with retail on the bottom floors. That would require redevelopment of existing commercial properties because downtown is reportedly mostly built out.
“We have to look at the elephant in the room, your downtown,” said resident Sam Gardner.
The next POCD workshop at which the public will be invited to speak is March 15 at 7 p.m. at the Wilton Library Brubeck Room. Route 7 and transportation will be the focus.
The Plan of Conservation and Development guides the town’s land use and conservation policies. It is updated every 10 years. This update will cover the town through 2029.
More information about the POCD is available online at wilton2029.com.