Zoning regulations changed in spite of concerns

Though it was unconditionally approved, an application made by iPark Norwalk to modify some of Wilton’s zoning regulations had Planning and Zoning commissioners at odds June 13.

Partially in Wilton, the office campus had applied to amend certain sections of the regulations that deal with the town’s two Design Enterprise districts, the five-acre DE-5 district and the 10-acre DE-10 district.

The reason for this is that iPark wants to eventually build a hotel on the northerly, Wilton portion of its DE-5 property.

Not all of the changes proposed, however, had to do with hotels in particular, and one proposed change led commissioners Joe Fiteni and Doris Knapp to vote against approval altogether.

As it stands today, the minimum required setback between a DE-10 property and an abutting residentially zoned property is 150 feet. In the DE-5 district, it’s 100 feet.

If an abutting residential property falls within the Metro-North railroad right of way, however, that minimum setback requirement is reduced to 50 feet, because the right of way provides additional buffer.

By that same reasoning, iPark wanted the minimum reduced from 50 feet down to 10, because, it was argued, there are other rights of way in Wilton that create even greater buffer, namely, a utility right of way and a public right of way created as a result of past planning for the Super 7 roadway.

“If I’m reading this right, you can take the back of the building and put it 10 feet from the railroad?” asked Fiteni, whose main concern was that the smaller setback would make fighting fire impossible.

“Bear in mind though that whether it’s a hotel or even a corporate office building, it’s regulated by special permit,” Town Planner Bob Nerney said.

“But why create a situation where you’re doing that?” Fiteni said. “Why force it into a special permit situation? I don’t see the need for making it so small.”

“I think we’re going too far,” Fiteni said.

Nerney said that perfectly developable sections of the DE-5 and DE-10 zoning districts are being “consumed” and wasted by the presence of the Norwalk River.

“The situation that exists is you have the river, which consumes a lot of our DE-5 land, and you have the tracks, and they parallel each other, so there’s consumption that’s occurring of the Design Enterprise districts,” Nerney said.

iPark’s Wilton portion is sandwiched between the Norwalk River and the Metro-North railroad. By being able to build closer to the railroad, they’d be further from the river and the river’s floodplain, which could potentially allow for a larger development.

“What bothers me is that this new regulation has been written with a specific site in mind,” said Secretary Doris Knapp.

“That’s what I’m saying,” added Fiteni. “It really is honed in on that piece of property. There have been a bunch of other [regulation changes] for that piece of property … and that’s very troubling to me, that we’ve written regulations for them.”

“Well not exactly,” Nerney said. “With the exception of 10/20 Westport Road, which is in a DE-10 district, really most of the parcels … [the river] parallels the railroad track.”

Returning to the issue of fire fighting ingress, Nerney said, “Not all properties have that access. When you think about it, there’s Wilton Commons. It does not have access around the back,” Nerney said.

“But we had a lot of discussion on that, and we had a discussion on the setback on the new building that’s in front of it. We had extensive discussions on that [setback] being wide enough,” Fiteni said.

“But the International Building Code allows for that,” Commissioner Rick Tomasetti said. “The International Building Code has certain criteria and requirements for fire lanes, and you do not have to have a fire lane all the way around a building to fight a fire.”

“This isn’t about the building code,” Fiteni said.

“But we’re talking about it with respect to fighting fires,” Tomasetti said. “Is this an issue of setback area and bulk … or are we worried about the safety because we need to somehow be able to get around the building?”

“We’re talking about both,” Fiteni said.

“You’re talking about having access around the building, which you don’t necessarily need, so it’s really an area and bulk thing. Do we care if we have a four-story building 10 feet from a property line that’s adjacent to the railroad and the power lines? I don’t. I don’t think that’s an issue at all,” Tomasetti said.

“What about the people who live on the other side?” Fiteni said.

“Well this is subject to a site-plan review,” Tomasetti said.

“I understand, but I hate taking care of it when it comes for a site-plan review. We’ve been doing a lot of that, and that’s very troubling. That is not the way I think we should be going,” Fiteni said.

After commissioners agreed to disagree, a vote was taken. The result was 5-2 in favor of approval, with Fiteni and Knapp voting against.

When the vote carried, Fiteni said, “Very dangerous, very dangerous.”