A standing-room-only crowd of at least 50 residents packed a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Feb. 27 at which a recommendation for a sewer extension was being discussed for a controversial potential development.
The owner of 183 Ridgefield Road, site of the now-demolished Schlichting Homestead, has proposed a 35-unit age-restricted housing development for the 13.45-acre site. The first step is to get the Water Pollution Control Authority to approve extending the town sewer line to the site, and the Planning and Zoning Commission is studying that question, based on the town Plan of Conservation and Development.
There was an air of outrage in residents’ comments about the project.
“I’m opposed to what it represents, which is high-density development in a very inappropriate area of town,” said Vicki Mavis after the meeting. There was no public comment allowed at the meeting because it was not a public hearing.
Mavis said later she is outraged about the entire process for how the Planning and Zoning Commission last November revised zoning regulations to open the door to a project like this. “It took place at a meeting that was poorly noticed to the homeowners most impacted,” she said of the single-family homeowners along Ridgefield Road.
They blame First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice for being a proponent of age-restricted housing. “When our town decided to do this, they thought very little of those who would be majorly affected,” Mavis said.
Mavis promised to do everything possible to fight the project.
“This is something that is not going to go away,” Mavis said.
Resident Robert Lenihan expressed his outrage in the hallway outside the meeting room at the town hall annex.
“It’s a residential area. You’re going to put 35 units? It’s crazy,” Lenihan said, and he blamed Vanderslice for pushing these types of developments.
“I bought a home there for privacy, and this would mean I’m going to see a lot of traffic, said resident Paul Nisco.
Commissioners noted that to extend a sewer, the extension must serve the purpose of encouraging development.
“The land is underdeveloped,” said Commissioner Scott Lawrence.
The issue is a classic planning exercise, said Town Planner Bob Nerney. “You have to look at the buildout,” Nerney said.
The commissioners noted that if they refuse the sewer recommendation, the water authority can go to a town meeting for the approval. They will continue their discussion at their next meeting, on March 13.
The work would involve a four-inch sewer pipe with a pumping system on a scenic road. The disruption to traffic during the construction would be substantial, some noted.
A plan submitted with the letter to the Water Pollution Control Authority shows the sewer line being extended from the area of Lovers Lane, which is where the town sewer ends.
Any extension of the town sewer for this project would be paid for by the developer, according to the Department of Public Works.
The project memo sent by Holt W. McChord PE indicates the project would include 35 three-bedroom units. According to a zoning map on the town website, the property is in an R-2A (two-acre residential) zone.
However, the Planning and Zoning Commission created new zoning regulations for age-restricted housing — for those 55 and older — at its meeting on Nov. 14, 2016. The new regulations would allow such communities to be built in an R-2A zone on property that fronts Danbury Road, Westport Road or Ridgefield Road. They may be built on lots of no less than three acres and no more than 25 acres. Such developments must receive a special permit and site-plan approval.
The regulations specify that 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.
The property at 183 Ridgefield Road was the site of a 19th-Century Victorian Italianate-style villa known as the Schlichting Homestead for the family that lived there for more than a century. It was one of only three of that type of house still standing in Wilton before it was razed in March 2016.
The property, which is next to Hillside Cemetery, was sold by Dave Schlichting to developer James A. Fieber of New Canaan on Aug. 20, 2015. Schlichting told The Bulletin at the time he was under the impression the developer would restore the house and a barn. But there was nothing in writing, and a legal notice appeared in The Bulletin on Sept. 24, 2015, announcing the developer’s intention to demolish the house.