Norwichtown residents support proposed Village District zoning regulations

Norwich – Several Norwichtown residents expressed enthusiastic support Monday for a proposed Village District overlay zone designed to improve aesthetics and enhance the character of “key gateways” to the regulated Norwichtown Historic District.

In Norwich, the City Council serves as the zoning board, and held public hearings on both the Norwichtown Village District zoning proposal and accompanying zoning regulations Monday. The council delayed final action on the proposals to July 2 after receiving recommendations for technical wording changes from the Commission on the City Plan.

City Planner Deanna Rhodes told the council the city planning office was making the proposal. State statutes allow village districts in “areas of distinctive character.” 

The Norwichtown Village District overlay zone would run along Town Street from the Route 2 highway entrance to the Norwichtown Green, would continue along West Town Street and would cover a portion of New London Turnpike from the Gorin’s Furniture location to the green.

While the Village District in places overlaps with the regulated Norwichtown Historic District, Rhodes said it is designed to cover commercial areas on the periphery of the historic district. But several buildings within the district – including the current Johnson Home for elderly women and the Board of Education offices in the historic John Mason School building – are included to ensure an additional layer of review if uses change in those buildings.

Existing buildings, existing parking lots, signs and landscaping would not be affected by the district regulations. However, new proposed buildings, major exterior building renovations – except painting and paint color – landscaping or sign changes would be reviewed by the planning office for compatibility with the character of the surrounding area, Rhodes said.

Mainly, the district would cover commercial areas just outside the Norwichtown Historic District, including the former Benny’s building on New London Turnpike and commercial properties on Town Street, where a Burger King has been proposed on three lots at 61, 63 and 65 Town St. where three modern houses are located.

No plans for that project have been filed yet in the city planning office. Rhodes told the council that if the plans were to be submitted prior to the effective date of the Village District regulations, the project would be grandfathered under the current regulations.

Norwichtown resident Ann Lathrop said the area represents “a grand collection” of historic buildings, a cemetery, the Lowthorpe Meadow and other historic features. She said the council has a duty, obligation and even legacy to protect the area and work with developers for “reasonable steps” to protect the area.

“It’s too bad this didn’t happen 40 or 50 years ago,” resident Matthew Brown said, adding that he prefers to drive through the quaint historic neighborhoods rather than the commercial strip of Town Street.

Other residents compared the proposal to efforts in Lexington and Concord and New Bedford, Mass., all of which capitalized on their history to preserve structures and promote tourism.

Dr. Jan Akus, an Elm Avenue resident in the historic district, called the Village District proposal “an excellent idea” and said it could be applied to the Taftville and Occum historic mill villages.

East Town Street resident Jonathan Webster presented the council with a petition signed by 85 residents in support of the Village District plan.

“Embracing the Norwichtown historic district enhances the character of our entire city,” Webster said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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