Proposed Burger King in Norwichtown opposed by neighbors
Norwich — The Commission on the City Plan late Tuesday continued a contentious public hearing after more than two hours of testimony on a proposed Burger King on Town Street that would abut the colonial burial ground.
Amaral Revite Corp. has proposed tearing down three 1920s houses at 61, 63 and 65 Town St. and re-grading the elevated properties to street level to build a Burger King with a 24-hour drive-thru lane. Only the proposed drive-thru was subject to public hearing Tuesday. The commission continued the hearing to its 7 p.m. meeting Sept. 18 after commission member Kathy Warzecha asked for time to visit the property to see the layout described.
The proposed development would be in the Town Street Neighborhood Commercial zone, abutted on one side by a People’s Bank with a drive-thru, and a Bank of America with a drive-up ATM, but the drive-thru has been closed. Across the street sits a Chelsea Groton Bank with a drive-thru and a McDonald’s a short distance up the street, also with a drive-thru.
Residents and historic preservation advocates voiced opposition, including whether there could be burials on the property so close to the burial ground. Neighbors objected to potential light, noise and litter pollution, traffic hazards and further commercial encroachment on the historic 17th century settlement.
William Champagne, president of the Norwich Historical Society, said the group met with Norwichtown residents to discuss the proposed development. Champagne said the developers did a good job shielding the project with buffers, reducing the property elevation and with the building design — with roof dormers, large windows and a colonial-style appearance.
Champagne said it was common to bury people of lower stature, including Native Americans and African-Americans, outside the burial ground walls. He asked if it would “make sense” for the commission to require an archaeological dig prior to approving the project.
“If one had to pick the most sensitive spot in Norwich, you’re coming right down to this spot,” Champagne said. “It adjoins the Norwichtown Historic District. It adjoins the burying ground. ... And one can make the case that the burying ground, between that and Lowthorpe Meadows and the Norwichtown Historic District, that’s the most historic part of Norwich.”
Attorney William Sweeney, representing the developer, said the project was designed to minimize impacts on the historic burial ground. Sweeney submitted photos showing that currently, only a chain link fence separates the burial ground from adjacent commercial development. The new Burger King would retain a fieldstone wall and a buffer 20 to 40 feet wide of land with mature trees and new plantings at the rear border with the burial ground.
The rest of the land would be excavated to the much lower Town Street level with a retaining wall. Sweeney said visitors to the burial ground might only see the very tops of cars in the drive-thru.
Residents on Elm Avenue, Mediterranean Lane, Scotland Road, Washington Street and East Town Street objected to noise from vehicles, the speaker and drivers shouting food orders, as well as litter, headlights and parking lot lights.
Jan Akus of 14 Elm Ave. said residents routinely find McDonald’s trash on the green and in the roads. Idling vehicles at the new drive-thru would allow exhaust and carbon monoxide to build up. The burial ground now is a “very dark” area and would be infiltrated by lights from vehicles and the parking lot.
While Sweeney cited the several drive-thru lanes, gasoline stations and restaurants as indication of the existing “commercial corridor,” Washington Street resident John Fournier said that means the area already is hazardous to pedestrians, and another use should not be added.
Sweeney said the area in front of the three vacant houses does not have a sidewalk. The project would include a new sidewalk, and the existing fieldstone wall along the front would be rebuilt between the sidewalk and the restaurant.
Regan Miner, a consultant for the Historical Society, said she was speaking as a Mediterranean Lane resident Tuesday. Miner said the stonewall at the rear of the proposed Burger King was built in 1870 and should not be seen as a demarcation between the property and the burial ground. She requested an archaeological survey be conducted as a condition of development.
City Planner Deanna Rhodes read aloud a letter from state Archaeologist Brian Jones in which he “strongly recommended” the commission require an archaeological survey with the state Historic Preservation Office as a condition of approval. Jones attached the state protocol for “unanticipated discovery of human remains” that must be followed if remains are found.
“This survey would consist of an historical background review of the property to better document its past use and the excavation of a limited number of archaeological shovel test pits to establish the presence or indicate that burials are likely present within the parcel to be developed,” Jones wrote.