A resident recently contacted me to express concerns about rumors of a longtime Wilton business closing. She wondered who was responsible and what the town would stand to gain if the property were to be sold and perhaps replaced by an office building.
When I moved to Wilton 28 years ago, the town did not have much in the way of retail or restaurants. In those intervening years, Wilton experienced an explosion of growth and expansion driven by demand.
Although 40% of Wilton households earn $200,000 per year or more, these households experienced a 22% decline in income from 2007 to 2013 (the latest year available). All other households are relatively flat. Thus a decline in demand within town for products and services is understandable. If you are making less, it is only natural you cut back on one or more luxury or discretionary items.
Without opportunities to restore demand, the uncomfortable reality is we may continue to lose more restaurants and retail establishments.
Fortunately, we have several opportunities to restore demand. For example, the recent townhouse project at River Ridge brought 20 new households to the community. These 20 households are composed primarily of empty nesters and snowbirds. They spend money at local restaurants and shops, pay almost $400,000 in property taxes, and demand little in town services.
The recent expansion of the Breitling headquarters, the renovation and expansion at ASML, Wilton’s largest employer, and the planned renovation of the longstanding vacant office building across from town hall are good for the community. Office building expansion and renovation means a lesser share of the tax burden for residents. With an office building, comes employees who dine and shop in town. Some may also choose to buy a home in Wilton and give a much-needed lift to our real estate market.
As first selectman, I strive to strike the right balance between those who want more growth, those who want to keep Wilton as is and those who wish Wilton was what it used to be, those who want taxes reduced, and those who support increased taxes to provide for more services and amenities.
Maintaining balance requires dealing with realities. This past year our grand list grew at a sluggish 0.2%. Yet we are fortunate there are developers now interested in investing in our town. Locating in Wilton provides both business owners and employees with an attractive alternative to commuting on an overburdened 95 to Stamford or Greenwich.
Yes, we may lose a long-time business and employees we have come to know. But as one door closes, another opens. In its place may be an opportunity to strengthen our existing retail businesses and a much-needed opportunity to expand the grand list.