Norwich Sewer Authority revises connection policy, adds some fee discounts

Norwich — The city Sewer Authority voted unanimously Tuesday to make major changes to what many complained was a burdensome sewer connection fee considered to be a hinderance to development, especially in the downtown and to major new projects.

The sewer connection fee of $2,500 per housing unit and varying fees for commercial uses was assessed on new development and on any reuse of buildings or properties vacant for at least two years, with few exceptions.

On Tuesday, the commission approved changes that eliminated the fee on reuse of vacant properties, added 50 percent discounts on the fee for development in the city’s enterprise zones, the newly established federal Opportunity Zones and in the Mill Enhancement zones.

Other changes simplified and clarified language in the fee policy, including one major change to state that the connection fee is applied to the property rather than the property owner. That way, if a property is sold and renovated, the new owner would not have to pay the fee, Jeff Brining, NPU division manager of customer service, told the authority prior to the vote Tuesday.

Darwin Gebbie, developer of the proposed new 120-unit apartment complex on the grounds of the former Peachtree apartment complex destroyed by fire on Westledge Drive, spoke during a public hearing on the proposed changes. Eliminating the sewer connection fee will save $300,000 on the project, Gebbie said.

“This was a real hurdle for us,” he said.

Gebbie and his son also are the developers of the new Hills at River View apartment complex overlooking the Shetucket River in Taftville on Route 97. The sewer connection fee will be applied to those apartments. Gebbie said it’s difficult for a small developer to make the finances work.

“This is all a family business,” he said. “We enjoy Norwich, and I think we’ve demonstrated we can build a nice project. And working with Norwich Public Utilities has been a real pleasure.”

Brining said the connection fee was put in place in 2006 in response to a construction boom that kept NPU busy with connections and increased infrastructure costs to extend connections to new development.

He said the changes would help promote downtown redevelopment by eliminating the fee for businesses moving into existing storefronts and buildings. He said the sewer lines already are in place at the former Peachtree property and had been in use for years before the 2008 fire.

Mayor Peter Nystrom also spoke in favor of the fee changes Tuesday and thanked the authority for helping the city to promote the new Opportunity Zones and the efforts to redevelop downtown buildings.

City Planner Deanna Rhodes submitted a letter of support to the Sewer Authority that stated the changes would help promote development in the Enterprise, Mill Enhancement and Opportunity zones, as well as encouraging new investment in existing commercial downtown buildings, “many of which are historic and costly to develop.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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