Residents see plans for Uncas Leap Park
Norwich – More than 30 people attended a presentation Tuesday on a plan to transform the historic Uncas Leap area into a heritage park highlighting the Native American and early industrial era development there, as well as the natural beauty of the Yantic River gorge, and allowing community use with walking trails and an amphitheater.
Representatives from the design consulting firm Milone and MacBroom displayed colorful panels showing various plan drafts that led to the proposed $1.5 million to $2 million master plan to create the Uncas Leap Heritage Park. Plan consultant Michael Doherty said the park would be an important tourism and walking connection to other attractions, such as Slater Museum, the city dog park on Asylum Street and the Mohegan Memorial Park at the corner of Washington and Sachem streets.
The main park plan encompasses 1.2 acres of property the city acquired in 2010 for back taxes. The city demolished the decaying Artform brick mill building, and the park plan calls for partially demolishing an adjacent 1837 granite mill building. The first-floor shell would remain as a ruin, with a walking path snaking through the former building and a display sign telling the history of the mill.
The plans have been in the works for the past several years but moved forward with approval of a $570,000 grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development and use of $270,000 from the city’s federal Community Development Block Grant for consultant services, environmental assessment and reuse of the former industrial property.
Doherty described major features of the proposal, including a new staircase from Yantic Street into the new park. Two overlooks at the river’s edge would give visitors commanding views of the natural gorge below. A new tie-off for kayaks and canoes would be created at the base of the cliff. An informal, steep walkway already leads from river to the cliff, and the plan would improve the narrow path, with stone steps and “more solid footing,” Doherty said.
Several neighbors attended the meeting and, while they said they liked the plan and look forward to the park development, they also expressed some concerns. Resident Cathae Ballard asked that a proposed public toilet at a new parking lot at 232 Yantic St. be moved to another location in the park, as it would be within direct view of several residents’ homes.
The plan called for a composting toilet needing little maintenance and with an attractive building design.
Resident Sidat Balgobin, who lives at the nearby Falls Mill Condominium complex, said he walks along Yantic Street every day. He expressed concern that visitors would park illegally along Yantic Street, as some do now, causing a safety issue, especially as cars travel fast downhill around the 90-degree curve.
Everyone attending the meeting received a comment sheet to tell the Uncas Leap Steering Committee what they liked about the plan, what could be improved and to circle some of the 10 elements in the plan they liked best.
The consultants will further revise the plans based on residents’ feedback. The plans were created after a similar public discussion session in March, when participants were divided into several workshop sessions to develop the park.
Doherty said he and Milone and MacBroom Vice President Tom Sheil consider the Uncas Leap park among their favorite projects to work on. The plans are highlighted on the company’s website, www.miloneandmacbroom.com, as a “featured project.”