Preston hearing set on zoning rules for old Norwich Hospital site

Preston - The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday on proposed new zoning regulations for the Thames River District encompassing the former Norwich Hospital property and defining types of development allowed or prohibited there.

The hearing will begin at 7:30 p.m. and will continue on Sept. 24 to allow additional testimony as well as to allow the commission to make proposed changes, Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said. The commission has been working the draft regulations for more than a year.

The proposed regulations list types of development that would be considered permitted uses, subject to approval of site development plans. These include professional offices, day care facilities, financial offices such as banks, health and fitness centers, hotels, restaurants and retail stores.

A section titled "Additional Permitted Uses" includes housing with several strict conditions - a topic of concern for the Preston Redevelopment Agency during a June meeting when the draft regulations were discussed.

Residential multifamily developments could include active adult housing, assisted living or "life care" facilities. A minimum of 15 percent of the units must be either "assisted housing," or affordable housing as defined in state statutes.

Also, residential development must not exceed 30 percent of the gross square footage of proposed building developments. Warzecha said the regulations would allow developers to file joint applications using multiple parcels - even parcels that are not contiguous - with a cumulative residential component not exceeding 30 percent.

Other additional permitted uses include theaters, family recreational and entertainment centers, recording or performing arts studios and intermodal transportation hubs, although not standalone parking lots, bus stops or parking garages.

The regulations also include the possibility of an overlay so-called floating zone to give developers flexibility. Projects using the floating zone "must have unique design details and features, diversified yet complementary uses, and economic and community developments."

Along with the 15-page Thames River District zoning regulations, the commission has proposed a draft set of design guidelines that would stress development that is pedestrian-friendly, with energy-efficient buildings appropriately sized and spaced to "create a sense of defined space" and a "New England style setting."

While the design guidelines are not mandatory, Warzecha said, the proposed zoning regulations also address design issues. Developers would be asked to preserve features such as stone walls and large trees. Landscaped buffers would be required to screen all abutting residential developments and cemeteries. A historic Jewish cemetery is on Route 12 near the center of the main campus.

Any developer proposing a project on the former Norwich Hospital land, now called Preston Riverwalk, must first present plans to the Preston Redevelopment Agency. The PZC would not be allowed to review any application without a report on it from the PRA. If the PRA gives a negative recommendation on a specific residential component of a development, the PZC would need a two-thirds majority vote to approve it.

The PRA has given input on the regulations over the past year. Last week, Chairman Sean Nugent said the agency would submit written comments to the commission on the final draft either at Tuesday's hearing or at the Sept. 24 hearing.

If you go

Who: Planning and Zoning Commission

What: Public hearing on proposed new zoning regulations for the Thames River District encompassing the former Norwich Hospital property

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Lower level of Town Hall


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