Letter: Cannon Road proposal defies development guidelines
To the Editors:
(The following letter to the Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission is published here at the author’s request.)
Re: LTWJ, LLC-Application for Subdivision (SUB #919) (Assessors’ Map #21-Lot 13), Cannon Road, Wilton: Public Meeting Monday evening February 26, 2018
In February 2018, the commission has an opportunity to strongly support appropriate land use, bulk, frontage, setbacks, with traffic and infrastructure balance. There are 12 goals in your regulations to guide development. I read about preserving and protecting the character and environment of all parts of town, streets and traffic, safeguarding natural resources and aquifer, developing homes consistent with terrain and soils and infrastructure. Certainly, this Cannon Road application defies and challenges at least eight (8) of your own guidelines.
This is a leadership moment for Planning and Zoning to rule on the character of this beautiful town. Accepting your leadership moment will inspire you to turn this application down. It is crystal clear what you need to do.
We are not able to be back home in Wilton til late Monday night. I intended to come to your earlier hearing and was on my way here from New Haven when I heard it was canceled and moved. So though I would rather appear in person, I need to write you instead.
The character of the land versus the proposed development
I have had the opportunity to walk the land yesterday, its steep slopes, some of its remaining towering trees, its many hand-constructed rock walls, its intriguing farmers wagon road “drift way” and its enormous outfall in a long pond. To develop it carefully to highlight these natural assets would require ingenuity and deep understanding of the land, the soil, the slope and the fragility of the soil that is there.
I am an architect with over 30 years in an award-winning practice. I am hard-pressed to even identify more than a handful of house sites. In addition, it would seem highly unlikely to create distinguished homes for a high-end market buyer to be in full view of each other on a tiered hillside. If we were in Sausalito, Calif., or Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., such precedent exists, but this is an old farming community along a narrow river and its tributaries which were the source of life, labor and industry in decades past.
There is no precedent here of which I am aware for higher-end, large-scale, tiered homes in clusters. The pond, lovely as it is, is not the mighty Hudson River (Hastings) or the Golden Gate Strait (Sausalito).
The imperfect citation of precedent
Apparently, precedent has been repeatedly cited with a profoundly different development on Black Alder with much smaller homes, a different demographic, a narrow, singular curb cut, and not visible from Cannon Road. In any case, repeating imperfect land use decisions again is not good land use policy.
Street, traffic, and public safety
Cannon Road is truly a long and winding road which at best on dry sunny days, off peak, might support slow-moving traffic. Its sight lines are poor, its shoulders non-existent. In our recent ice storms, the road was truly perilous. With its wetland proximity, it also offers deep, long-lasting fog events. That being said, it is charmingly out of another time with many homes from a century plus ago. It is not a safe road for walkers or strollers. Experienced bikers must be aware of the time and weather, and wildlife crossings between the wetlands at dusk. When I honor the 25-mile speed limit in rush hour, tailgaters are not happy.
Cannon Road north when it becomes Cannondale Road (Weston) is in extremely poor shape with enormous potholes and it is truly hazardous even on a sunny day.
The road cannot support these kinds of large multi-unit curb cuts. Clear cutting on both sides is essentially way out of context and out of scale. This plan has public safety and traffic concerns, and I cannot imagine that firefighting would be that easy either.
The typology of the subdivisions
I have not seen straight, wide roads down hillsides and suburban cul-de-sacs in decades. This site plan is from decades long past, antithetical to the sociology of neighborhoods, the market force of privacy which characterizes Wilton’s large lots, seemingly blind to the site’s natural assets. This is an old-time P.U.D. truly without any recognizable merit in a town and county without robust market forces. Our topography and our aquifers in this part of New England is why our housing stock is eclectic. The shape and assumed “instant neighbors” format of these clusters are antiquated and inappropriate in the 21st Century. The New England buyers’ market (including people like us) would be put off by this kind of enforced geometry.
Return on the land
I understand someone who owns 54 acres deserves a just return on that land. As I understand it, four homes could be permitted as of right in conformance with the underlying two-acre zoning. Having experienced the site, I still wonder how the frontage to the road can be artfully created in context to the narrow outlet road at Cannon. But, using the new understanding of residential materials and energy considerations, I might argue that, with great skill and care, perhaps four appropriate homes not sharing a cul de sac and not staring at each other might be created here. That would be the real return on this land: four beautiful homes whose theme and material is about settings in and with nature. Despite the heavy inventory of unsold homes here, perhaps, a case study in living in harmony with nature might catch some wonderful new neighbors.
A word about Cannondale
Wilton is a town with many villages and hamlets within it. Its attraction to people like us is just that. It is not traditionally suburban and is distinctly different from a few of its eastern and northern neighbors. Land use policy ought to strengthen and support that appealing difference.
Cannondale was once named after the river it followed (Pimpewaug). It is a narrow river valley of less than three miles with rather dramatic elevation changes. There are 42 homes with frontage along the 1.3 miles of Cannon Road (from Pimpewaug to Wampum). Nearly 84% of the properties are set on two acres or more (with two historic properties exceeding five acres).
Only seven properties on the full length of the road have less than two acres, five of which are either over 100 years old or in the historic Cannondale District.
There is zero reason to profoundly alter this strong context of two-acre zoning with challenging land forms, serpentine stone walls and embankments with its blend of history, agriculture and a place which is locked into its linear relationship with carriage routes, the flow, soils and setbacks of the Norwalk River, and bounded by major north-south roads on east and west (7 and 57) and railroad tracks.
We recently moved to Wilton and Cannon Road for its history, its privacy, its range of scales, its natural assets and its accessibility to rail and to Route 57. So, Planning and Zoning, please stand up for your own regulations, stand up for those of us who came here because of the land and its history and nature. You have regulations in place for this two-acre area for a reason. You have a fragile and limited infrastructure highly dependent on the land’s natural assets. Surely, Wilton can do much better.
Barbara L. Geddis, FAIA
296 Cannon Road
Wilton, Feb. 26