The Day – Proposed Norwich ordinance would allow Business Master Plan District in Occum

Shaun H. Ruff

Norwich — The expansive rural area along Interstate 395 in Occum, being considered for a possible second business park, could be regulated under a proposed new Business Master Plan District.

The City Council on Monday will receive a six-page proposed ordinance governing a proposed Business Master Plan District. The council will schedule a public hearing for a future meeting on the ordinance, likely in March, said Mayor Peter Nystrom, a co-sponsor of the ordinance.

The proposal would create a Business Master Plan District as a so-called floating zone that could be applied to any area with at least 200 contiguous acres under the same ownership or other control arrangement. The area comprising the expansive former Tarryk and Doolittle farms in Occum are referenced specifically in the ordinance introduction.

The Norwich Community Development Corp. has a purchase agreement for $3.55 million for 17 parcels totaling 348 acres that includes the two former farms, where proposals for a luxury golf resort and commercial development fell through a decade ago. NCDC’s purchase option with owners Byron Brook Country Club LLC and M&A Holdings LLC runs through Dec. 15, 2021, with a possible extension to Dec. 15, 2022.

“The City of Norwich recognizes that there exist properties located proximate to Interstate 395 and the Taftville-Occum area of the City which represent important opportunities for economic growth and community development,” the proposed ordinance states. “There may also be other areas in the City which may be identified from time to time which present such opportunities.”

NCDC attorney Mark Block said the agency is continuing its feasibility studies of the proposed purchase, including identifying potential funding and financing sources. Norwich Public Utilities provided $500,000 to NCDC for the deposits and is assisting in the feasibility studies.

The proposed ordinance, Block said, would provide “a uniformity” to the area for potential future development according to a master plan. It’s too early to say whether NCDC or future developers would create the proposed master plan.

The ordinance calls for the City Council, which serves as the zoning board in Norwich, to approve the Business Master Plan District ordinance and later, the council would have to approve a specific proposed master plan for a designated area.

If development on at least one parcel doesn’t proceed within five years, the district designation would expire.

Allowed uses in the district would include professional and contractor offices, research and development facilities, computer development firms, data or logistic centers, laboratories, but not for on-site patient visits, 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, landscaping and construction “laydown area” and residential development.

Much of the land currently is zoned for residential development, except for a commercial area off Route 97 in the center of Occum.

The ordinance allows for plan modifications “to accommodate market changes during the complete development of the property or properties.” The council would have to approve the changes.

Development proposals for each parcel would have to go through the normal planning and zoning permit processes.

Nystrom said a few years ago, a developer did approach the city with a proposal to build a large-scale vehicle “reclamation” operation, including a 75-acre lot to store junk vehicles on the highly visible former Tarryk Farm along I-395. The developer wanted a facility to deconstruct the vehicles and a large warehouse to store and sell used vehicle parts.

Nystrom said city planning and zoning staff told the developer the city zoning regulations would not allow such a facility, nor would the new Business Master Plan District. Nystrom said the developer tried again by contacting his office and he again rejected the idea.

“That would have been awful,” Nystrom said. “I was grateful the current zoning regulations do not allow that.”

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