Preston Redevelopment Agency approves master plan for former Norwich Hospital
Preston — The conceptual master plan of development for the former Norwich Hospital property in Preston proposed by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, showing large-scale outdoor and indoor recreation and sports facilities, hotels, senior housing and marina, was adopted Thursday as the town's official development plan for the property.
About 50 residents of Preston and other towns along with Preston officials attended the public hearing and expressed opinions and asked questions on the plan Thursday during a one hour, 15-minute public hearing hosted by the Preston Redevelopment Agency prior to its unanimous vote to adopt the plan.
The conceptual plan also has to be approved by residents at an upcoming town meeting.
Many comments and concerns expressed urged protection of Poquetanuck Cove, the rural character of the town of Preston and protection for the site where two World War II fighter jets crashed in a wooded area atop the hill on the east side of Route 12.
The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority unveiled the proposed plan for the property on Jan. 17, showing development throughout the 393-acre property, including a 40-acre theme park, an indoor water park, synthetic skiing facility, outdoor adventure park, large chain outdoor-themed retail store, a sports training complex, hotels, senior housing, time share units, a public park near the Thames River and a marina with possible water shuttle service across the river to the Mohegan Sun Casino.
At the start of the hearing, PRA Chairman Sean Nugent told the audience that negotiations on the Property Disposition and Development Agreement are proceeding vigorously, with lawyers for both parties “locked in a room” for the past two days with instructions to get the agreement done, Nugent said. The official exclusive negotiation deadline between the town and the tribe passed on Feb. 19.
First Selectman Robert Congdon said earlier Thursday evening that the parties set a target date for the attorneys to complete the agreement by the end of business on Thursday. While the town received a revised draft of the roughly 150-page document Thursday afternoon, the final draft was not yet ready.
In response to a question at the hearing, Nugent said he was reluctant to set new tentative dates for public information sessions, the necessary town meeting and referendum — two sets of tentative dates have been canceled this month — before the final agreement is ready. Congdon said the town also must hold two public hearings prior to the referendum on any proposal to sell town property.
Several residents of Preston, Bozrah, North Stonington and Gales Ferry all said they love the rural character of Preston and would want to preserve that character in spite of the proposed dense development of the former hospital property.
Anne Nalwalk of North Stonington and Anne Roberts-Pierson of Gales Ferry and others stressed the need to protect Poquetanuck Cove, a bird sanctuary and surrounding undeveloped open space land. Roberts-Pierson said any development on the property would affect all the towns on both the east and west sides of the river.
“Poquetanuck Cove is a natural resource beyond compare,” Roberts-Pierson said.
Nugent said town officials have discussed the need to protect nearby Poquetanuck Cove and to provide public access to the riverfront area.
Nugent said he has heard repeated questions and concerns about protecting the four cemeteries, three owned by the Norwich Hebrew Benevolent Association. Nugent said PRA officials met with members of the association two weeks ago to discuss their concerns and plans to protect the cemeteries. The fourth cemetery, the Brewster Cemetery, is maintained and managed by the town and also will be protected.
Town officials met with state Department of Transportation officials this week to discuss the town's request that the state move up plans to expand the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge with a second bridge span across the Thames River, Nugent said.
Several people also asked about the timeline for the project going forward. Nugent said the state would release the $10 million in state bond money approved Feb. 1 to finish the cleanup of the property once the town approves the purchase and sales agreement. The town plans to finish the cleanup in one year and then turn over ownership of the property to the tribe to start the project.
But Nugent said tribal officials already have started reaching out to potential developers for specific aspects of the property. All of those specific development plans would have to go through normal town planning and zoning approvals in the future.