Zoning rules set for former Norwich Hospital land

Preston - The Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday approved a 17-page set of zoning regulations for the Thames River District that encompasses the former Norwich Hospital property and some nearby property.

The commission had worked on the regulations for several months and made final technical changes before unanimously approving the regulations.

But a provision to allow residential housing on the former Norwich Hospital property, now called Preston Riverwalk, continued to be the most controversial aspect of the new Thames River District.

The regulations call for allowing a Special Thames River Design Development Overlay District. The so-called floating overlay district would allow the commission to consider projects not specifically listed in the regulations, including housing. But housing will be limited to no more than 30 percent of the entire district area.

The town will create a housing "bank" for the 30 percent housing, drawing down the number as housing projects are approved.

Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent again objected to the housing restrictions during Tuesday's public hearing.

"Based upon our analysis, discussions with other economic developers and our own consultants, this provides restrictions to the developer community and doesn't position the town of Preston as a business friendly community," Nugent said. "In a tough economy, this makes the task of attracting developers much more challenging."

But Nugent pointed to another section of the regulation that could allow flexibility in the 30 percent limit if the project is consistent with the Preston Riverwalk Plan of Conservation and Development and is recommended by the PRA. If the PRA gives a negative recommendation, the PZC would need a two-thirds majority to approve the application.

The PRA has the authority to review all projects proposed on the Preston Riverwalk property and must give an advisory recommendation to the PZC.

The regulations list numerous permitted uses within the Thames River District, including offices, child care centers, banks, health and fitness centers, dine-in restaurants, retail businesses with less than 30,000 square feet and hotels and inns.

c.bessette@theday.com

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