Housing possible on former Norwich Hospital land

Preston - New proposed zoning regulations for the former Norwich Hospital property and some surrounding land would allow several types of commercial, retail, and restaurant development and would allow certain types of housing with some restrictions.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is nearing completion of new zoning regulations for the Thames River Design District, which will encompass the 393-acre former Norwich Hospital property and 53 adjacent acres.

The Preston Redevelopment Agency reviewed the 20-page draft proposal Wednesday - some for the first time - and asked questions mostly about provisions to allow housing and an accompanying chapter on building and landscaping design guidelines.

PRA members complimented the PZC for their work on the regulations over the past six months. PRA member Joe Biber served as liaison to the planning commission on the proposed regulations.

"Great job," PRA Chairman Sean Nugent said. "It's not easy work."

Nugent will compile comments and suggested revisions from agency members and forward them to the planning commission. The commission hopes to finalize the draft regulations, hold a public hearing in July and adopt the regulations in August, Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said.

Warzecha called the proposed regulations "extremely flexible." The draft lists many permitted uses that would need only site development plan review by the PZC, and a provision to allow other development in a "floating zone" that could be placed on the various parcels.

Current zoning regulations do not allow housing development on the former hospital property. Warzecha said the new regulations would limit housing to 30 percent of any overall development project on each parcel sold. In addition, 30 percent of that housing must be designed officially as affordable housing.

Affordable housing could include either owner-occupied or rental housing, with owners or tenants earning no more than 80 percent of the town's median income level. Deed restrictions would have to be placed on the properties to preserve the affordable housing component. Preference would be given to housing situated above retail or commercial development. She said it would be unlikely that single-family homes would be proposed.

Warzecha said the affordable housing component is critical to the town, because only 3.9 percent of Preston's housing stock is categorized as affordable. Under state regulations, if a town has less than 10 percent affordable housing, a developer could propose large affordable housing project anywhere in town, and the PZC would have limited jurisdiction to reject it.

Nugent questioned some aspects of the housing proposal, however, seeking a broader approach rather than the 30 percent allotment per development parcel. Nugent suggested an overall housing percentage, rather than a per-parcel requirement.

PRA member Frank Matovic suggested the PZC clarify that the design guidelines for development to show that they are just guidelines rather than requirements.

The eight-page design guideline document calls for development that is in character with the community, "harmonious" with other development within the Thames River District and with creative building designs that promote energy efficiency. The grounds should be "pedestrian friendly" and landscaping should give priority to native plants that are "tolerant to our local climate, soils, natural water availability."

Nugent added that photographs included in the document showing examples of buildings appear generic to any region of the country. He said photos should reflect "our culture."



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