New church plan OK’d in Wilton

WILTON – a new plan for the conversion and repurposing of the former Sacred Heart Church property at 47 Maple St. was unanimously approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment at its regular meeting last week.

Christina Rubio-Sprague, of Willreign Properties, proposed a plan different from one presented a month ago that eliminates the sheltered workshop, retail store and gallery. Instead, the plan includes five apartments in the two buildings, plus office and workshop space in the former sanctuary for personal use of the owners, with no employees. She also presented a revised site parking plan.

The new proposal was suggested to board members during a site visit on Saturday, July 8, and formally presented the next week.

While the owners still like the previous idea, “We are purchasing another property where it will be a better fit,” Rubio-Sprague said. That property isn’t in Wilton.

“We heard the concerns of the neighbors about sales and traffic” expressed at the last meeting, she said.

The new plan, she said, will conform to all regulations or requirements of the building code concerning outside lighting, and there will be no signs.

As before, there will be two apartments in the former rectory and three in the lower level of the church building. They are planned as three bedrooms each.

Rubio-Sprague said a survey of a four-block radius of the church, 88 lots, showed 77 family units, 30 two-family or multifamily houses, plus four businesses. The proposed apartments would be slightly larger than the neighborhood average.

The major concerns of the dozen people attending were on-street parking, increased traffic and retention of green space – they asked where kids would play.

It was noted that the elementary school is two blocks away “with plenty of play space.”

The two buildings occupy half an acre, and regulations require two parking spaces for each user, a total of 12. Rubio-Sprague presented a sketch map showing the potential for 17 parking spaces.

During the Saturday visit, she pointed out a tree at the rear of the church and several bushes near the rectory that could be removed to provide parking. At the meeting, she said removing the tree wouldn’t be required with 12 spaces.

Board members said some provision should be made for visitors to reduce temporary on-street parking.

Residents noted the funeral home in the adjoining block, and said that when there is a funeral, Maple Street can be blocked by cars parked on both sides, potentially preventing the passage of a fire truck.

It was mentioned that the church had never been connected to the town sewer. The old septic system is being removed and the connections made.

A resident asked about the effect on property values, but the board members said they had no way to judge that and would need a professional analysis.

Selectman Kellie-Sue Boissonnault asked about the planned office space.

“Suppose you change your mind and decide to put in another apartment?” she said.

Chairman Neil Faiman said any change would require a return visit.

Building inspector John Shepardson said he “was not confident” there was enough parking space, but the Zoning Board members said they would leave the actual configuration up the Planning Board.

“This is a residential area, and this plan doesn’t take away from that,” board member Bob Spear said during deliberations after the public hearing.

Board members said the plan wouldn’t generate a lot of traffic.

“This is better than the previous plan,” Carol Roberts said.

The alternative, members agreed, would be tearing the building down or letting it sit empty, and said neither was a good idea. It was agreed that the exterior would be changed as little as possible architecturally.

In summing up, Faiman asked, “Would it be substantial justice (a requirement for a variance) to require it be torn down or not used? About property values? No evidence has been presented and there will be no substantial change to the neighborhood.

“This is a unique lot, and its (developmental) problems arise from that.”

Roberts added the need for the town to provide workforce housing.

“Any proposed use will present problems,”board member Paul Levesque said, and no plan would satisfy everyone.

The plan will now go the Planning Board. The selectmen and any affected abutters have 30 days in which to appeal and request a reconsideration.