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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Norwich business park public hearing continued; site walk scheduled

    Norwich ― Residents who live near the proposed second Norwich business park in Occum voiced opposition during a public hearing Tuesday on a plan to divide the 384-acre property into 12 commercial lots with a 2,700-foot-long access road.

    The Norwich Community Development Corp., which purchased the property in December 2022 for $3.55 million, is proposing to divide the property into 12 lots for commercial development on the land already zoned for commercial and planned development. The proposed road would run from Route 97 near Interstate 395, Exit 18 to Canterbury Turnpike.

    The Commission on the City Plan opened the public hearing Tuesday and heard more than an hour of comments before continuing the hearing to Dec. 19.

    Separately, on Dec. 7, the city Inland Wetlands, Watercourses and Conservation Commission is scheduled to review a minor modification to the road plan the commission approved last summer.

    About 40 residents attended the hearing at City Hall, with more attending remotely. Residents raised concerns about building heights, noise, traffic and the anticipated intrusions into their rural residential neighborhood. Several pointed to their homes on the map projected on a large screen.

    A site walk open to the public will be held at noon Dec. 12 beginning at a location to be published with the agenda, city Director of Planning Deanna Rhodes said. No questions or comments will be allowed during the site walk.

    Although the hearing pertained only to the subdivision, NCDC officials and residents spoke about building height and possible future development. If the subdivision is approved, NCDC would have to return to the commission with any proposed development plans for each lot.

    NCDC President Kevin Brown said the proposed subdivision is the next step in the development of the newly named Occum Industrial Center. Brown said neighbors’ input has been critical to the planning process. Brown has been meeting with neighbors regularly over the past year and said many of their concerns have been incorporated into the plan, including traffic access limitations and building height restrictions.

    Four of the proposed building lots would have deed restrictions limiting buildings to no higher than 75 feet, and one lot would have a building height limit of 30 feet. NCDC reduced proposed development west of Lawler Lane to one development lot, with a remaining lot preserved as open space, Brown said.

    Brown said there are no plans to widen Route 97 or Lawler Lane, as two speakers at the hearing said. He said once the access road is extended to Lawler Lane in a future phase, it would be closed with a gate at Lawler Lane to prevent traffic from using the narrow, residential road. It would be opened only if the lot directly across Lawler Lane is developed, Brown said, and only to cross Lawler Lane into the commercial lot.

    Neighbors said the plan is too intensive for the rural residential area. They expressed skepticism that industrial traffic or industrial park employees would stay off residential Canterbury Turnpike and Lawler Lane. Speakers also objected to a proposed roundabout to be designed to prevent industrial traffic from turning onto Canterbury Turnpike, saying it would be unsafe and ineffective.

    Lawler Lane resident Sue Jacobson questioned the plan to build the road at the start of the project, not knowing what potential development would be coming to the property.

    “And taking care of it,” Jacobson said. “Who’s going to take care of the road if you put it in and no one buys (the lots)?”

    Scotland Road resident Frederick Browning said a 75-foot building height “is not negligible.” He said neighbors sent drones up to the 75-foot height and said the drones were visible above the existing tree line. Browning suggested limiting building heights to 50 feet and suggested boundary restrictions of 150 feet from the property line to any building or asphalt parking lot.

    Commission member Kathy Warzecha, who chaired Tuesday’s hearing, asked NCDC officials to provide an executive summary of the lengthy traffic report on the project and a summary of the subdivision proposal, including 11-inch by 17-inch maps for commission members to have for the Dec. 12 site walk. The summaries are expected to be submitted by Dec. 5.

    “This is the largest thing that has come into our community,” Warzecha said. “We really need to be vigilant.” The rest of her comment was drowned out by applause from the audience.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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