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Norwich City Council approves regulations for Business Master Plan District

Norwich — The City Council Monday unanimously approved zoning regulations that would allow for the creation of a Business Master Plan District on property containing at least 100 acres, a move considered a predecessor to creating a second business park on rural land in Occum.

The Norwich Community Development Corp. has a purchase agreement for $3.55 million for 17 parcels totaling 348 acres that includes the former Tarryk and DooLittle farms in Occum. A proposal for a luxury golf resort and commercial development fell through a decade ago.

The purchase option included in the agreement of sale between NCDC and owners, Byron Brook Country Club LLC and M&A Holdings LLC, been extended twice, and runs through Dec. 15, 2021, with a possible extension to Dec. 15, 2022.

NCDC submitted the proposed application for the zoning regulation, but the Business Master Plan District can be applied to any area of the city with at least 100 contiguous acres. The proposal initially called for the district to cover at least 200 acres, but the Commission on the City Plan recommended reducing the minimum district size to make it more viable in other locations.

In Norwich, the City Council serves as the zoning commission.

The Business Master Plan District would work as an overlay on properties proposed for the district. The ordinance creating the regulations is the first step. Any proposed Business Master Plan District would require a public hearing and approval by the Commission on the City Plan.

Allowed uses would include professional and contractor offices, research and development facilities, computer development firms, data or logistic centers, laboratories, retail, manufacturing and power generation facilities and utilities.

During council discussion on the ordinance, Alderman Joseph DeLucia objected to allowing power generating utilities in a Business Master Plan District, saying he did not want “gas-powered generation plant in Norwich.”

NCDC Attorney Mark Block told the council he co-authored the proposed ordinance and said there was no specific proposal for any type of power generating plant. Block said any plan would be submitted to the Commission on the City Plan to decide whether it was appropriate.

Block said the council could debate any of the listed proposed uses, “but to table and tinker and tinker” with the ordinance based on speculation would not be productive. He said the wording was left general, with specifics to be worked out by the planning commission.

Alderman William Nash said he was approached by an angry resident Sunday objecting to the proposed Business Master Plan District. Nash said the ordinance would allow the city some control over development, especially in the former Occum farmland. But he too objects to any possible plan to build a tire-burning plant or trash-burning plant on the property.

“I think it’s a good use for that property,” Nash said of the proposed business park, “but I’m concerned about power generation.”

Council President Pro Tempore Mark Bettencourt said he would support the ordinance, although he too thought some of the wording is “a little broad,” but he said if a specific development does come forward, it would have to be reviewed by city agencies.

Alderman Derell Wilson called the ordinance “a set-up tool,” and it’s the City Council’s job to vet any specific proposal under the business district.

“They can’t get passed with a rubber stamp,” Wilson said. “There’s a certain process that it has to go through.”

Mayor Peter Nystrom said the ordinance provides better protections for the Occum property and perhaps other sites, by listing specific development proposals and restricting others.

c.bessette@theday.com

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