Wilton 2025: Community discusses a vision for Wilton’s future
Community members packed Wilton Library’s Brubeck Room for the Wilton 2025: Architecture and Planning — Past, Present and Future event on May 11 to discuss the future of Wilton’s landscape and architecture with a panel of architect, landscape and planning professionals.
Rob Sanders, owner of Rob Sanders Architects LLC in Wilton, opened the discussion by encouraging people to imagine “what this town could be” and think about what kind of development would attract people and enhance the lives of residents.
Chris Pagliaro, partner at Pagliaro Bartels Sajda Architects LLC in Norwalk, said if Wilton is planning for the next 10 years, it has to plan differently — particularly when it comes to Wilton Center.
“Moving forward doesn’t come without cost and it’s important to invest in getting it right,” said Pagliaro. “We should be open-minded and responsible about what we need.”
“From a dental point-of-view,” Sanders said, Wilton Center has “a lot of gapped teeth and a lot of teeth out of alignment.”
“I would argue that the leftover residential structures like the house across the street from the library ... are gaps in the teeth,” said Sanders, who encouraged people to think about how those “gaps” could be filled to increase Wilton Center’s vitality.
Sanders said business owners in Wilton Center struggle to make enough money to maintain their facilities and make a profit, and he argued that more residential density downtown could help with that.
Kathleen Poirier, owner of Kathleen Poirier Architects LLC in Wilton, agreed and said there “definitely is a draw to wanting to live near the town centers of all communities.”
Sanders brought up the the recently-approved land use application to allow two dwelling units over office space at 23 Hubbard Road and said more mixed-use buildings like this would bring more people to Wilton Center.
“Mixed-use is the savior of good downtown planning,” Pagliaro said.
The panel agreed a denser downtown would support changing demographics, which Town Planner Bob Nerney said he believes needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to the future of Wilton’s landscape and architecture.
“The wants and needs of the younger populations are vastly different than the generations of most people here,” said Nerney. “Younger people today like urbanism. They don’t own cars; they live in very small apartments. They don’t want big houses — they don’t need big houses. It’s different.”
Pagliaro agreed and said younger generations “want to be able to walk to dinner” and “quickly get to a store.”
“There’s that concept of a downtown, and I think that new urbanism really kind of ties into the way the millennials think, and that’s discernible centers, five-minute walks to the center of town,” said Pagliaro. “They want various dwelling types, and a good downtown has single-family, multi-family townhouses and condominiums.”
For the “restricted” area of Cannondale, which has an “isolated train” station and its own “center,” Sanders said, he could envision residential density like that seen in the Silvermine district, where there are “charming” two- to three-bedroom houses that are “well designed” and in close proximity to one another.
“The commercial will follow if we create that residential density,” said Sanders.
Sense of community
Suzanne Knutson, landscape designer and vice president of the Wilton Garden Club, agreed and said she believes the Norwalk River Valley Trail fosters the “real sense of community” that Wilton has been lacking.
“It was a home run in terms of usage. The day it opened, hordes of people were using the trail,” she said. “That’s because it fosters a sense of community.”
While the parks in Wilton that “appeal to people who enjoy solitude, nature, quiet reflection,” are “great,” said Knutson, she would like to see more parks that foster community interaction.
Nerney said “there are not a lot of venues” in Wilton outside of the library, and he thinks there’s “a great opportunity to try to promote cultural opportunities” in town.
“Maybe a summer outdoor music series or something that brings families and people — something that might also benefit the commercial sector of downtown,” he said.
Nerney said Schenck’s Island is a good example. “It’s a beautiful place that’s used by a lot of people, but if you think about it, it’s continuous to the downtown.”
Sanders said Schenck’s Island is land the town “preserved immediately behind the condominiums on the west side of the valley,” where there is space “big enough for a significant group of people to gather.”
“It would be nice to have, perhaps, more development at Schenck’s Island,” he said.
Nerney agreed and said development at Schenck’s Island could be “an integration of alternative usage that would appeal to a broader audience.”
One audience member liked the idea of a music series and suggested putting an amphitheater with walkable bridges back to town on the Young’s Nurseries lot at 211 Danbury Road.
Pagliaro said Wilton has to find its own identity “to become the best Wilton that we can become.”
There’s something about Wilton’s neighboring towns that attracts people to them, said Pagliaro, and Wilton needs to find its own attractive assets.
One audience member suggested a “riverwalk with restaurants” along the Norwalk River — something not found in neighboring towns. Unfortunately, Knutson said, that would “never happen” because the land along the river is restricted.
Westport Road resident Deborah McFadden suggested accentuating Wilton’s artistic community.
“We have a national historic monument here in town — Weir Farm,” she said. “We have galleries; we have artists — very noted artists — and we need to develop that in a way [to show] that there are very vibrant communities here in Wilton.”
To help Wilton grow out of its “awkward adolescence,” Sanders said, residents need to clearly articulate their ideas to town management and put forward their visions of a desirable Wilton in an “outstanding” way.