At its meeting on Monday, July 27, the Planning and Zoning Commission was asked to include an unscheduled meeting during its August break to accommodate an applicant under a time crunch.
The Westport Day School, which wants to relocate to 372 Danbury Road and has a public hearing for that pursuit scheduled for Sept. 15, submitted a change of use letter to the commission, asking to be considered a personal service business and not a school so it could expedite the approval process for the sake of being able to open by Sept. 15.
Personal service businesses are a permitted use in the general business zone in which 372 Danbury Road lies, while schools require a special permit to operate.
“We’re facing a timing problem; they have no place to go,” said Casey Healy, who spoke on behalf of the applicant, which is now based in Westport.
This caused a split within the commission, which had to decide whether to have a special meeting during August, when it is scheduled to be on break.
“It’s called Westport Day School, but you want us to not consider it a school?” asked Chairman Chris Hulse.
“What you are describing is really a special education component of a school,” said Commissioner Doris Knapp. “Unless these kids are going to be there for less than a whole day, I can’t understand why it is not a school.”
“In terms of land use, which we’re all about, it doesn’t seem to fit that standard model (of Wilton schools),” argued Town Planner Bob Nerney in support of accepting the request.
“Back in the heyday of the commission, we had special sessions for our clients to meet the flow of applications,” said Commissioner Bas Nabulsi. “I would be willing to attend a meeting during our break.”
“This is not a nonprofit institution, so I would be comfortable dealing with this in the regular way,” said Vice Chair Sally Poundstone.
“I’m for expediting this in any way possible,” said Commissioner Franklin Wong.
“I am as well,” added Commissioner Lori Bufano.
“They had ample time to get it in,” pointed out Hulse.
“Being OK with a special meeting,” he continued, “is our reaction to the poor planning on their part to get it done.”
“The applicant, no matter how worthy, should be treated like any other applicant,” said Knapp.
“It’s something that Wilton should, as a town, embrace: the continued influx of business,” Nabulsi said. “So it’s not just, in my mind, altruistic to want to help out a really good cause; it’s also part of serving the interest of the town.”
The commission was forced to take a straw poll and the motion failed due to a four-to-four deadlock.
Nabulsi, Poundstone, Bufano and Wong voted to hold the special session while Hulse, Peter Shiue, Knapp and Joe Fiteni voted to deny it.