Wilton Acres, Montessori plans OK'd
Two development projects — a subdivision at Wilton Acres and an expanded parking area at The Montessori School — have been given the go-ahead by the Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission despite strong neighborhood opposition of each application. The commission approved both projects by a straw poll vote at its meeting Monday, June 24.
Voting in favor of Special Permit 191E — the Montessori School parking lot — were commissioner Lori Bufano, vice chairman Mike Rudolph, chairman Jim Wilson, and commisioner John Gardiner. Commissioner Marilyn Gould was the lone abstaining member. The commission will approve a formal resolution at its next meeting on Monday, Aug. 8.
Before the vote, Mr. Wilson said, “No one is going to be happy here. This is a lose-lose situation. Someone is going to get hurt here.” He continued later in the night to add he hoped the neighbors of The Montessori School understood the commission’s “hands were tied,” in this situation.
Mr. Rudolph also said he was “very aware of the concerns presented by the neighbors.”
However, members of the board acknowledged that proposal “D” for the special permit was the “best of a bad situation,” as spoken by Mr. Wilson.
Four commission members also voted to approve the division of Margaret DeRose’s land on Wilton Acres into two building plots: Ms. Bufano, Mr. Rudolph, Mr. Wilson, and commisioner Bas Nabulsi approved the measure in a straw poll. Ms. Gould rejected the subdivision.
Ms. Gould voted against the subdivision because she felt that “If we allow this to go through, we will set a precedent with a major impact on the division of lots within Wilton. I feel we have the discretion, under the odd-shaped lot designation, to accept or not accept the plan. I am opposed to accepting it.”
Mr. Nabulsi said that because he could not find a reason why the proposed plan was not compliant with the town’s zoning regulations, the commission does not have the authority to take an application “compliant with the letter of our regulations” and deny it. Mr. Wilson agreed.
The commission will approve a formal resolution at its meeting Aug. 8.
The Monday meeting began with The Montessori School’s presentation of a third proposed plan for the expansion of its parking area, named proposal “D.”
The commission originally denied a permit for the parking lot, but in April 2013, the Connecticut Superior Court found in favor of the school, and remanded the issue to the commission. The court said the commission had to allow a parking lot to be built on the school’s land as of April 23.
Counsel for the Montessori school, Joseph P. Williams, said the school had prepared proposal “D” after hearing neighbors’ and the commission’s concerns over the previous two.
The new plan includes a 25-foot property setback on the north end of the proposed parking lot, a reduction of driveway width to 20 feet, the removal of a light post on Whipple Road, the replacement of a planned wooden stockade fence with additional vegetation, and the planting of shielding vegetation on the front of Sari Weatherwax’s yard, at 19 Whipple Road. It also includes a traffic “loop” to facilitate traffic flow.
During the meeting, the school also agreed to install LED lights in the parking lot fixtures, so light produced would be “focused, and blocked” from their neighbors yard.
After presenting the plan, Mr. Williams said the school took issue with two conditions laid out by the commission. It did not agree with the required ban of on-street parking at the school, and proposed to add a security camera system, rather than the 20-foot security gate required by the commission.
At the end of the meeting, it was decided that a decision on on-street parking was one that had to be made by the Police Commission.
Of the plan, Mr. Williams said, “In response to the request to show some middle ground, we have done that… It is a compromise.”
Neighbors, however, did not see the new plan as a fair compromise.
Bonnie Dickinson, of 23 Whipple Road, lives directly across from the school’s existing parking lot. She said, “I can sit here and say: yes, yes, yes, [the representatives of The Montessori School] have done a wonderful job [of compromising], and you’re great people. But, I don’t think you’re great people, I don’t think you care about this neighborhood.
“When you take a school, and you build these gigantic asphalt paved driveways, you take an institutional footprint and squeeze it into a residential zone,” she continued. “You’re creating another paw print. A third one. Why? We are being completely shut out of what is a tiny, little, green island in the middle of Route 7, and this gigantic institution. They are changing the character of our neighborhood, and we are allowing them to.”
Phillip Goiran, of 23 Whipple Road, presented a plan early in the approval process which would have reduced the number of driveways on the property of the Montessori school from three to two after the parking lot expansion. His plan was rejected by the school because of issues with sewage placement, and the consideration of children’s safety issues, though it was widely supported by the school’s neighbors.
Ms. Weatherwax challenged the idea that this parking lot will be “internal” to the school’s property after questioning why Mr. Goiran’s proposal was not strongly considered by the school’s board of trustees.
“I am appalled that Phil Goiran gave us such a logical, workable scheme … that was just pushed away … If this was internal to your property, we wouldn’t be going over this … All of you are going to leave in a few years. You are going to leave, your kids are going to leave, but all of us are going to be stuck with this wreckage.”
Mr. Goiran also implored the commission to consider whether or not the town was being “railroaded” into believing this plan was a true compromise.
“Is this the only, and best solution for the town and for the school? Does it address the needs of the town and the neighborhood, or does it address the needs of the school? I ask you to consider that.”
Barbara Vogt, of 43 Whipple Road, said she was truly upset her neighborhood and The Montessori School could not live in harmony.
“I would love to embrace the school, but I never have,” she said. “I love the kids, I love the noise, I love the screaming, they’re so funny. And yet, you are always in our way, and you are always in our way, and that is so sad, because we all have to live in this tiny area.”