Norwich — Residents had their first chance to comment Monday on a proposed zoning regulation that would allow a Business Master Plan District to be created on 100 or more acres in the city, with farmland in the rural Occum area being eyed as a possible site for a second business park.
The City Council public hearing on the zoning regulation was part of the first in-person City Council meeting in more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The council serves as the city’s zoning board.
The Business Master Plan District was proposed by the Norwich Community Development Corp. as a floating zone that could be applied to large contiguous tracts of land suitable for development as a business park. NCDC has a $3.55 million purchase agreement for 17 parcels totaling 348 acres that includes the former Tarryk and DooLittle farms, where proposals for a luxury golf resort and commercial development fell through a decade ago.
The option included in the agreement of sale between NCDC and owners, Byron Brook Country Club LLC and M&A Holdings LLC runs through Dec. 15, 2021, with a possible extension to Dec. 15, 2022. NCDC is studying the feasibility of developing the property, extending upgraded utilities and enlisting state assistance to build new on and off ramps directly to the land off Interstate 395. State officials toured the property March 17.
Most of the several speakers at the hearing discussed the specific proposal for the Occum property, rather than the proposed governing regulations, which are not specific to the property.
Following the hearing, the council discussed specific aspects of the regulation and changes recommended by the Commission on the City Plan. The council then tabled a decision on the regulation because it has to republish the proposed ordinance to incorporate changes it made. The council will hold a second public hearing on April 19.
Resident Charles Evans opposed the proposal to create a second business park, arguing that several properties in the Stanley Israelite Business Park and in downtown Norwich remain vacant and should be the focus of redevelopment efforts.
Evans questioned why no developers have come forward to purchase the Occum property, which has been for sale for years since the Byron Brook project fell through.
Mark Perkins of 81 Lawler Lane, who lives near the proposed Occum business park property, objected to the list of allowed uses, including truck stops, manufacturing and power plants. He called the former Tarryk farm “pristine former farmland,” on residential roads.
“Is this really where we want our truck traffic to go?” Perkins said, referring to the truck stops listed.
Former Alderwoman Joanne Philbrick said she drove through the existing business park and saw several vacant buildings and “for lease” signs.
“We have too many failed projects,” Philbrick said. “We don’t need another one.”
Robert Buckley, chairman of the NCDC board, said the proposed regulations are part of an overall plan by the agency to attract new businesses and retain businesses.
Buckley said the proposed regulations governing the Business Master Plan District does not yet apply to any specific property. Any proposals to apply the proposed district to specific property would require an application, public hearings and approval by the Commission on the City Plan.
While NCDC initially recommended the Business Master Plan District for a minimum of 200 acres, the Commission on the City Plan opted to recommend to the City Council that the minimum be reduced to 100 acres to make it easier to apply the district to other areas of the city. Norwich has few large tracts of land available for development.
Allowed uses in the district would include professional and contractor offices, research and development facilities, computer development firms, data or logistic centers, laboratories, manufacturing and power generation facilities and utilities.
Retail, gasoline stations and auto repair places would be prohibited, but the ordinance calls for allowing a “truck stop with associated retail sales, subject to approval of location.” Other prohibited uses include junk or salvage yards, vehicle sales, leasing or renting, self-storage, and residential development.
In its endorsement, the planning commission recommended adding language stating the list was not all-inclusive and other uses could be proposed.