Visions of development clouded by data

A view of an unused former vehicle dealership on Route 7. – Tony Spinelli photo
A view of an unused former vehicle dealership on Route 7. – Tony Spinelli photo

A spot check of the town’s digital zoning maps of the Route 7 commercial strip show there are several serious impediments to any commercial development there, as residents at public hearings have suggested should be encouraged.

One impediment is that most of the commercially zoned parcels of land are already occupied, and not available. Another is that the parcels of land are small, many less than an acre in size. The third impediment is that parts of Route 7 are not served by sewer or public water.

The sewer system was built in 1974 at the insistence of the federal Environmental Protection Agency with help from federal funds. It runs about five miles north up Route 7, from the Norwalk border to Wilton High School.

The system supports the schools and hundreds of businesses along Route 7 and in the town center, but does not reach up into Cannondale or Georgetown, two sections of town that residents at public hearings have often spoken of as potential locations for new enterprises.

In other words, Wilton has a ceiling as to how built-up it can get, and accordingly, how much it can build its tax base.

Wilton contains approximately 17,500 acres, according to the 2010 Plan of Conservation and Development on file with the Planning and Zoning Department. Roughly 16,000 acres, or 92% of the land, is either developed or committed to open space or municipal use.

That means there is a ceiling on how much housing can be built, as well, to boost the tax base.

It would appear the only viable options for development are repurpose existing buildings or tear them down and put up new ones, as is the case in the Wilton Heights proposal being discussed by the Planning and Zoning Commission. These types of projects may involve zone or regulation changes.

It is accurate to say that Route 7 is mostly built out, as far as commercial parcels go, said Town Planner Bob Neney.

“There is not a lot of vacant land, and you have to also consider the parcel sizes and uses that occupy them,” Nerney said. “There may be some uses more susceptible to being redeveloped than others. That's just the nature of reality. But it’s correct that most of the commercial parcels along Route 7 are built.”

Nerney said it is also accurate to say that redevelopment, not development per se, should be the focus for future growth. However, there are some properties and groups of smaller properties that are more ripe for redevelopment than others, and he is reluctant as a town official to be the one to point them out.

So, the pressure will come from developers who seek out and find these parcels and come up with new ideas for them.

It may involve groupings of smaller parcels.

“Two or three of these could be purchased and put together under one development,” he said.