Letter: The cat is out of the bag
To the Editors:
Almost a year ago, the historic Schlichting House was tragically demolished by the Fieber Group, LLC of New Canaan, after an approval process that strikingly revealed the shortcomings of Wilton's commissions to resist inappropriate and unfortunate private development.
Monday night, the P&Z Commission deliberated a request for a "referral" to the Wilton Water Pollution Control Authority to consider a new Sanitary Sewer connection for a 35-unit development proposed at the same 13.52-acre site. How did we get here? And, why after last year's large citizen outcry protesting a blatant violation of a historic property, are our town representatives now considering this next step to irreparably harm our town's character and historic legacy? Here is a brief summary of what has transpired to date:
• Fieber purchases the property from the Schlichting family with the stated understanding that the property (house, barn and site) would be rehabilitated for his personal use.
• Fieber next proposes a 4-lot subdivision to the P&Z Commission which meets the Zoning requirement for 2-acre min. lot size. Submission purposely omits the remaining lot with the historic house/barn, cleverly excluding ANY public comment on the house. The subdivision is approved by the P&Z Commission.
• Fieber posts "Intent to Demolish" sign for the house/barn triggering Wilton Historic Commission review. The WHC, limited in its ability to actually prevent destruction of a threatened property, only imposes a 90-day delay. The house is fully taken down on March 23, 2016.
• At the same time, neighbor Vickie Mavis organizes a grass-roots effort to save the house and mobilize the community to consider ALL of Wilton's historic legacy in the context of future development. In spite of articles, opinion pieces, attendance at meetings, a 1,500-signature petition, etc., the house is torn down and neighbors accept the inevitability of five new homes on the historic property.
• Fall 2016, Fieber reps propose revisions to the Zoning Reg's to allow Age-restricted developments in existing zones - essentially an "overlay zone." Ridgefield Rd, is identified as an included area; with 183 Ridgefield Rd. among the properties benefitting from "spot zoning."
• Fieber reps submit a Sanitary Sewer Extension Report to Wilton Water Pollution Authority in support of a 35-unit age-restricted development on the property — a necessary pre-development step prior to a full P&Z Site Plan submission
Is it not obvious to all that Fieber Group has craftily "played" the P&Z, other town commissions, our town reps., and, in truth, the entire Zoning process for unwitting supporters of his development goals? Luckily at last night's meeting, Scott Lawrence, vice chair of the P&Z Commission carefully/publicly analyzed Wilton's "2010 Plan of Conservation and Development." This document, revisited every 10 years, serves to establish a common vision that reflects the desires of its citizenry and recommend policies that will help attain that vision. He identified Section 6, Infrastructure Strategies, Map: "Water & Sewer Plan" which labeled Ridgefield Road from the Village Center north to the Town of Ridgefield as "Other Sewer Avoidance /Septic Management Areas." This means to avoid extending ANY sewer service into these areas in order to maintain the current intensity of use and character.
The POCD envisioned this area to remain "as is" with NO increase of densities that would necessitate town sewer connection. What am I missing? If there is a significant community desire to allow greater densities in this area, it should ONLY be brought into the POCD process and be revisited at the next update to the plan.
Why is the Town allowing "spot zoning" which subverts the POCD? I am trying not to be cynical here, but it appears that the P&Z Commission and Town Reps are either supportive of a single private developer's goals or are asleep at the wheel — neither of which is particularly acceptable. Please be advised that the "cat is out of the bag" — a large/activist group of citizens and neighbors are now carefully watching the Town Boards and representatives on this flagrant attempt to allow unsuitable development in a very special Wilton neighborhood — one which truly reflects the unique character of our town.
Samuel E. Gardner, AIA
Architect & Planner
Ridgefield Road, Feb. 28