Age-restricted housing has a place in town

Although there are no applications pending at this time, Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission paved the way for age-restricted housing — for those 55 years old and up — by creating new zoning regulations at its meeting on Monday, Nov. 14.
The new regulations will allow for a variety of options, including communities of detached, single-family and duplex houses or a mix of multi-family housing units.
The communities may be built in a number of zoning districts, including one- and two- acre (R1A and R2A) as well as multi-family residential districts: DRD (Design Residence District), THRD (Townhouse Residence District), CRA-10 (Center Residence Apartment District), and MFA/AHD (Multi-Family All/Affordable Housing District).
Should an age-restricted community be built in the R1A or R2A districts, it must be on property that fronts, and has vehicular access from, Danbury Road, Westport Road or Ridgefield Road. Developments may be built on lots of no less than three acres and no more than 25 acres, and must receive a special permit and site plan approval.
In the multi-family districts, communities will be allowed in a range of densities and in some areas will have an affordability component. Depending on the district, single-family attached or detached multi-family units or a mix would be allowed.
At least one resident of each unit must be 55 or older and no one under 21 will be allowed to live in a unit for more than three months in any given year.
Commission Chair Sally Poundstone spoke favorably of the resolution. “This is an opportunity,” she said. “There is a need many of us are very aware of.” She added that the concept is “revenue positive. These are not people who will have children in our schools, but they will use our restaurants, library and recreational facilities.”
Commissioner Franklin Wong questioned the need. “I’m not sure what we are relying on in our marketplace to say there is a need,” he said. “I know people would be interested in it, but what is the need?” The real need, he continued, would be higher-density housing for people in the 18-to-35 age group. “People leave town at 18 and they don’t come back.”
Commissioner Joe Fiteni offered a scenario from his own experience, saying many of his friends and neighbors have left Wilton for other communities because they have age-restricted housing. “There is a need and it makes housing more affordable. To me, this serves a large segment of people.”Wong was still concerned. “If we don’t address the broader issue, if we start eating up other parcels [of land] with age-restricted and assisted living, where do we go?”
Members of the public who spoke in favor of the new regulations included state Sen. Toni Boucher, who lives in Wilton and said the state’s economic condition is forcing some people to downsize, whether they want to or not. “We should try every way we can to accommodate them,” she said.
Casey Healy, a resident and attorney with Gregory and Adams, said demand has been demonstrated by the rapid sell-out of River Ridge, a cluster of single-family homes on River Road with a homeowners’ association, and Wilton Commons, “two ends of the financial spectrum.”
He also pointed out that the town’s own Plan of Conservation and Development projects an increase in the population of people 55 and older, growing from 22% in 2010 to 26% by 2020.
A developer who recently completed more than 50 units in Ridgefield said that community sold out in a matter of months.
After closing the public hearing, the commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the new regulations.