Norwich residents get chance to comment on proposed second business park

Conceptual layout of the North End Commercial Master Plan area for the proposed business park in Occum, Norwich. (Image courtesy of Henry Resnikoff, RFP, Inc.)

Norwich — With the approval of Occum’s second $24 million, 384-acre business park, neighbors are opposing the plan, which many see as disrupting the quiet corner of Norwich.

The first opportunity for public comment is a community meeting at the Norwich Worship Center, 165 Lawler Lane, on Wednesday at 6.30pm. Norwich Community Development Corporation officials will explain the Business Park North plan and answer questions.

Wednesday’s meeting will be less formal and more interactive with program officials than the City Council Zoning Committee public hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, December 12. 5 at Kelly Secondary School, 25 Mahan Drive.

In Norwich, the city council acts as a zoning committee, handcuffing councillor and mayor Peter Nystrom to discuss the project outside of public hearings and zoning committee reviews.

Nystrom, Alderwoman Stacy Gould and Alderman Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, who are voting members of the NCDC board, had to sidestep and skip discussions at the executive meeting at a recent meeting as the project neared the licensing stage.

The Town Planning Commission must make recommendations to the Zoning Commission on the proposed master plan for the business park. The committee will discuss the plan at its 7pm meeting on November 7. On the 15th at City Hall, but there will be no public hearings.

NCDC has the option to buy the 17 properties from M&A Holdings LLC and Byron Brook Country Club LLC for $3.55 million. The owners bought the properties, including the former Tarryk and Doolittle farms, in the early 2000s for a golf course resort and residential project, but failed. The parcels are now zoned for planned development or general commercial development.

The NCDC’s option expires in December. 31. The agency had hoped to secure federal funding as part of a larger, unsuccessful regional federal grant application this summer. Kevin Brown, president of the NCDC, said the agency will continue to look into alternative buying avenues.

Meanwhile, the NCDC and real estate consultant Henry Resnikoff are also advancing the design and permitting. The City Council Zoning Committee approved a zoning ordinance for the Commercial Master Plan District in April 2021. 5 meetings will review specific plans for the property.

Conceptual masterplans submitted in September show the property is divided into potential development sites with a dozen buildings ranging in size from 9,000 square feet to 500,000 square feet.

The plan calls for the reconstruction of Interstate 395’s 18 exit ramp on Route 97 to create a designated main entrance to the business park. A roundabout is proposed where the new road intersects the Canterbury Turnpike to keep business park traffic away from country roads.

17 business park sites on Occum’s Canterbury Turnpike, Scotland Road, Lawler Lane and Route 97 have 148 adjoining owners.

Dozens of residents voiced their disapproval of the project on Facebook forums and called on residents to attend public meetings. Opponents have pledged to distribute a petition to submit a project to the city council’s zoning committee that some say would destroy the rural character of the city’s “quiet corners” and destroy wildlife habitat.

Opponents have questioned the need for a second business park, citing vacant commercial and industrial buildings at the current Stanley Israel Norwich Business Park and elsewhere in the city. One commenter said if the city offered generous tax breaks “just to let businesses pack up and leave after the tax breaks end,” others questioned the promise of the property tax windfall.

Samuel Browning, a local lawyer and former city councillor, was a neighbour on Scotland Road. “I’m probably in the minority because I’m not against that,” Browning said. But he has questions and concerns, especially about access and transportation.

“I hope they can complete the freeway ramp,” Browning said. “If they don’t get access from day one, it’s screwed up. That’s going to increase opposition.”

Browning also said the first city business park is almost full as the city allows condos and condo complexes. “They turned large tracts of land into apartments.”

Norwich Worship Centre pastor Jeff Sharp said he was approached by a neighbor who asked the church to host a neighborhood meeting. The church can accommodate about 200 people, and an overflow video viewing room can be set up downstairs if necessary.

Sharp said the congregation, which has about 120 to 130 active members, doesn’t discuss the business park much. The church itself sold the rear land to the former golf course project in 2007. Sharp said the church uses its large lawn overlooking the development for barbecues and youth activities.

“We’ve known for years that something will be built around us,” Sharp said.

NCDC President Brown said program officials will speak in an informal setting Wednesday and answer questions. They will discuss the impact on residents, buffer zones and proposed public bike and walking paths.

Officials will reassure residents that no construction will take place in the near future, Brown said. The project requires local, state and federal permits, including approval for the access road from the Office of the National Transportation Administration. NCDC will reapply for federal funding in the spring.

Brown said he understood concerns about residential road traffic, and said the proposed pathway would come first.

“We’re not putting the cart before the horse,” Brown said. “Yes, we understand the concerns about traffic patterns.”

Fact Box:

Upcoming public meetings at the proposed North Business Park in the Norwich Ocombe area:

Wednesday, November 9: Neighborhood meeting with Norwich Community Development Corporation. Staff, 6:30pm, Norwich Worship Centre, 165 Lawler Lane, Norwich.

Tuesday, November 15: Town Planning Commission reviews proposed project master plan, 7pm, Norwich City Hall, 100 Broadway. There was no public hearing.

Monday, December. 5: City Council Zoning Committee Public Hearing and Zoning Committee Potential Voting on Proposed Commercial Master Plan, 7:30 p.m., Kelly Middle School Auditorium, 25 Mahan Avenue.

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