P&Z critical of 158-unit building
WILTON — A 158-unit multifamily proposal at Wilton Campus in the town’s center was not received favorably by the Planning & Zoning Commission this week.
Wilton Campus, located near the south end of Wilton Center, is owned and operated by KIMCO Realty, the largest commercial landlord in town. Nick Brown, manager of the project for KIMCO, presented the idea Monday during a pre-application meeting for a mixed-use complex to be placed on the lot.
He also discussed possible demolition of the current building on the property that has “about two-thirds” vacancy of its commercial units, per Brown. KIMCO’s Wilton River Park, more commonly referred to as the Stop & Shop complex adjacent to Wilton Campus, only has a 10 percent vacancy rate.
Consistent with a nationwide focus to shift toward more mixed-use buildings with residential elements, KIMCO is proposing two buildings on-site — one with 92 residential units and commercial space abutting River Road with another building housing 66 units tucked away behind it.
Brown explained that the local plan is consistent with KIMCO’s macro-level nationwide push — but therein lies the issue that many of the zoning commissioners had with the project.
“Every single one of these things that we’ve seen in your presentation, they could have been in Virginia or Georgia or Texas or anywhere else,” P&Z Chairman Rick Tomasetti, an architect by trade, told Brown and architect Brian O’Connor. “But here in Connecticut, we have a certain vernacular and a certain feeling and a certain scale and none of this stuff looks like it fits into that.”
Another architect on the commission, Christopher Pagliaro, agreed with Tomasetti in saying that the proposal team’s presentation, which offered four different architectural designs and evolutions, felt as if they were throwing “noodles to the wall” to see which design would stick.
He also referred to one of their architectural plans as “University of Oklahoma housing” and not reminiscent of the rest of the village.
referred to the Wilton Center Master Plan, which is being worked on by P&Z to fulfill one consistent vision for the town’s main retail artery. While Brown and O’Connor pointed out that the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development calls for more diversity of housing along the Danbury Road corridor and in Wilton Center, Tomasetti and others on the commission said this proposal does not do enough of providing charming connectivity to the rest of the downtown area.
The focus for the master plan, Tomasetti explained, is providing interconnectivity between retail, eateries, office spaces and residential properties in Wilton Center. While KIMCO is presenting this mixed-use plan in part because its retail elements have been underperforming
in the property, some commissioners voiced their concern that the current design plan may not bode well for future commercial entities that would sign on to be apart of the complex.
“I believe that part of the problem we have with the retail in Wilton is that its an automobile community and, if you look at succesful downtowns, I think that there’s a lot of benefit to ‘Hey, I found a parking space here,’ and I think a lot of incidental retail happens when people walk by something,” Pagliaro said, adding that he doesn’t think this opens up the main retail corridor as the town is pushing for. “What we’ve been working hard on for the past four years through the POCD and engaging our master plan about how we can make Wilton Center
more vibrant and how we can extend it. And, you know, this is sort of going the other way.”
Another concern is the loss of the movie theater space etched into the current building at Wilton Campus, per commissioner Eric Fanwick. Tomasetti stressed the importance of spaces specific to the arts in succesful communities and gave the proposal team a simple phrase that he said he tells many applicants.
“Think big, think visionary,” Tomasetti said.
Brown said he appreciated the feedback and didn’t expect the commission to approve the plans on the “first, or even second and third” attempt, but that the group will reconvene and present another plan to the town at a future pre-application meeting.