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Public can attend legislative committee meetings on sale of former Norwich Hospital property

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published June 26. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - Two legislative committees will meet Thursday in Hartford to consider the proposed sale of 49.65 acres of the former Norwich Hospital property in Norwich for $300,000 to a Farmington-based firm that had expressed interest in the property in the past.

The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building, and the Government Administration and Elections Committee will meet at 3:30 p.m. in Room 2B.

The meetings are open to the public but are not public hearings, and no public comment period is listed in the agendas.

State Rep. Ed Jutilla, D-East Lyme, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said he expects the committee to vote on the sale Thursday. He said he has heard no controversy surrounding the potential sale, and Norwich officials are in favor of it.

The two committees must approve the state's proposed sale of the former hospital property to Thames River Landing LLC, which has not yet revealed its development plans.

Any development proposal would be subject to Norwich zoning regulations. The property is in a Planned Development Design District, which allows numerous types of commercial, retail, hotel, research and educational developments, but does not allow housing.

The finance committee agenda for Thursday includes a presentation on the proposed sale by state Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Donald DeFronzo and lists Thames River Landing Principal Ronald A. Shelton as expected to attend the meeting.

Shelton signed the purchase-and-sale agreement as president of Society Financial Corp., the managing member of Thames River Landing LLC. Mark R. Fields of Colchester is listed on the secretary of the state's business filing as a member of the LLC.

Norwich officials have had limited discussions with the developers and have received no specifics on potential development plans. In 2010, Thames River Landing submitted a plan to Preston for the entire former hospital campus in Preston and Norwich. The plan included a technology research park on the Norwich side.

According to their resumes included in the 2010 plan, Shelton has experience in housing development, mortgage financing and as an instructor in financial courses related to housing in developing countries.

Fields listed diverse experience in small business ownership, management, nursing home operations and management and housing development.

"Mr. Fields, as a local businessman, resident and developer has been interested in the former Norwich State Hospital property, now known as Preston Riverwalk, for many years and has kept a constant vigil on the designation process," his resume stated.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said he plans to submit a letter to the legislative committees supporting the sale.

The property includes institutional buildings and a former housing subdivision for hospital staff. Abandoned since 1996, the buildings have decayed and have environmental contamination.

The Mitchell Building, part of the 49.65 acres Thames River Landing want to purchase, is on the west side of Route 12 crosses the Norwich-Preston town line, with 90 percent of the building in Preston.

Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent said DAS advised the PRA to work with the buyer on the issue. Nugent said he has not yet had contact with Thames River Landing.

A year ago, after learning the state had a buyer for the hospital property, the Norwich City Council revised zoning regulations for the Planned Development Design District to remove housing and marina development from the zone.

Alderman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers, who proposed removing housing, said the city should seek commercial development on the property.

Removing marina development was more of a moot issue, he said, because the former Norwich Hospital land in Norwich to be sold does not reach the Thames River.

c.bessette@theday.com

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