The Four Degrees of “Change of Use”


Every Connecticut community has its own permit requirements and processes for new businesses. Norwich is slightly unique in that the community provides almost all of the business services “in house” because of the extensive public utility program. When a new business is looking to locate in the city it is important to determine whether their business is a “change of use” or “change of user” for the property that they have selected. A “change of user” is usually not an issue, but a “change of use” can be. The “change of use” distinction plays out in four different ways, as described below:

Zoning is the first step of the change of use analysis. The city’s land use regulations (aka “Comprehensive Plan”) define which uses are allowed on the land. Every parcel of land in the city is “zoned” and it is important to understand which uses are allowed at a particular address. All uses require a permit of some sort, and there are three permit classes: Zoning Permit (issued by the zoning enforcement officer), a Site Plan Review (issued by the Commission on the City Plan) and a Special Permit, also issued by the Commission on the City Plan, but a public hearing must be held. What we’ve found is that off-street parking is usually the zoning issue that trips up a change of use. Zoning fees range from free (sign permit) to $560 (variance). A Certificate of Occupancy (“CO” or “C of O”) cannot be issued until a Certificate of Zoning Compliance is issued.

Compliance with the Building Code is the second category. The city enforces state building codes, of which there are several nuances and multiple variables at work, and which are administered by the Building Official’s Office. Uses in the business code do not align up with the definitions and language in the zoning regulations. For example, a retail classification in zoning is classified as mercantile in building code. Restaurants (zoning) are Assembly group A-2 (building) and so forth. This can present a challenge because some businesses think of themselves differently than how these regulations define their business.

The number of toilet rooms, egress (ability to safely exit a space), accessibility for disabled people and proper ventilation (i.e., HVAC) are the most frequent issues that we’ve had to work around for a change of use. Buildings cannot be occupied until a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) is issued by the Building Official’s Office. What happens if you occupy a building without a CO? The worst case scenario is that the building can be condemned. At that point, it is excruciatingly challenging to recover, so do it right the first time. The fees for a Building Permit are unique to each project based on the scope of work.

Compliance with the Fire Code is the third category. The city enforces the state fire codes, which are administered locally by the City Fire Marshal’s Office. Life safety of occupied buildings is an important consideration, and the key issues that arise during this process involve egress, whether a sprinkler system is available and the occupant load of the space. In Norwich, the fire code process is aligned with the building code process and there are no fees.

Public Utilities is the fourth category. In 2005, the Norwich Board of Public Utilities Commission adopted a Sewer Capital Connection Fee policy for properties that involved a change of use, or restoration of a previously condemned property. The connection fee is calculated based on the “EDU” (1 EDU = 200 gallons per day; each use has an EDU rate) for each use classification in the policy and is administered by Norwich Public Utilities (NPU) The policy can be found here:

NPU also requires a utility deposit to be paid at the initiation of a commercial account. The deposit is determined based on gas and electric consumption over a three month period of cold weather. This fee is reimbursable at the closure of an account.

Too Crossfit to Quit

crossfitCrossfit has become a major fitness trend across the United States. Well, what the heck is it? Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program modelled after law enforcement and military training techniques, in which you train for real world fitness needs, rather than for a specific muscle group. David Marshal and Josh Michaud started their quest to find space suitable in Norwich for their business back in 2011, but realized that more planning was needed before launching into the venture.

We most recently connected with the guys in January of this past year when they were looking to secure a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) for a space on West Thames Street. Why would they contact us? In this instance, one of our real estate broker partners, Fred Allyn, Jr., connected them with us. Few businesses realize that there are four key local steps to address prior to occupying a space, especially if it involves a “change of use,” and each of these steps has a slightly different definition for change of use, to serve the purposes of the laws or policies that they are seeking to enforce. What to know more about the change of use process? See our “Four Degrees of “Change of Use” write-up, here: Click to read story

This project involved a “change of use” under the Zoning Regulations, and an application for approval was submitted to the Commission on the City Plan (SDP #1028) in accordance with Section 7.3 “Mill Enhancement Program” in the City’s Zoning Regulations. The project was unanimously approved on February 25th, 2014. What did we do to help? We coordinated meetings with code officials at three sites, assisted with the development of two site plan applications, aligned them with professional technical assistance (i.e., architect) and attended the Commission on the City Plan meeting to provide confidence in their application, and technical assistance if needed.

What we have found is that few businesses understand rules and regulations that are outside of their industry. Worse, they often get misinformation from well-intentioned friends and family that are not involved in rule enforcement (i.e., “my cousin’s dentist’s sister said I didn’t need to get a permit, because…”). Ramping up their knowledge of other rules and regulations (e.g., zoning, building, fire) is challenging and overwhelming; creating a stressful situation. This is where many businesses quit.

Sometimes having the right people on your team, in this case an architect, can save a significant amount of time and money (do it right the first time). We’ve also found that by being present, we can reduce the stress and create confidence that they are on the right track and in doing so, create a much more comfortable experience. It’s exactly what they do with their training program: regular folks come to work out in an environment that provides confidence, technical knowhow and a great community feel. A place where people feel comfortable outside of their regular comfort zone.

 Now that is legit. Too Legit…? Nope, Crossfit.

 Checkout Crossfit Paybeck on the web and like them on facebook: and

Economic Development as a Team Sport


Did you ever notice that all sports are not ‘team’ sports?  Some such as boxing or skiing depend on the skills of an individual over the coordinated approach of a team like basketball or soccer (congratulations Germany on the World Cup Championship, by the way!) Did you ever think about how much different managing a team may be than an individual athlete?  Team sports involve many more personalities and differences that can be much more difficult to guide than those required of a single top athlete.  That is much like the difference between successful – sustained economic development growth and short term gains.

One of the key philosophies universal among high performance regions of economic development is the understanding that there may be superstars at work but, as individuals they stand little chance of changing the economic structure of a region, a city, a business park, a neighborhood, a block, or street alone.  Economic development is much more of a team sport than the perfect skills of a single player.

Going it alone or as a team, what a choice!  After doing this kind of work for well over a decade, we have learned that the go it alone route is hard work, frequently less than rewarding and not the way to success, especially as an organization such as NCDC or a community such as Norwich or as a region such as eastern Connecticut.  That’s the reason you will see NCDC staff investing time and energy in regional initiatives that improve the situation and economy beyond the geopolitical boundaries of Norwich, the community we all have in our hearts and minds every day.  To the north we are working on strengthening relationships with communities who have large plots of level land suitable for larger projects requiring larger sites than available in Norwich. To the south you may see us working with the regional economic development entity called the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, (SeCTer).  SeCTer has recently been successful in securing the region as an Economic Development District (EDD) which means projects listed in the regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) are now eligible for federal funding.  This is significant to Norwich with over 15 projects listed and more on the way!

We regularly work with two chambers of commerce (Eastern and Greater Norwich) and as many as four and five (Westerly, Mystic, and Windham!) at various times of the year. Why? Because we never know where the next business opportunity connection may come from AND we support business and THEIR regional networks.  There are two commercial real estate groups in our area and we are working with (SeCTer CID and ECAR) and supporting their brokers who are hard at work every day siting businesses. These connections not only help with individual business opportunities but are important in helping brand Norwich as a location where the TEAM works hard on behalf of business!

Thank you to our team!  In addition to the organizations and members of those mentioned above, you have a super team here in the City of Norwich and its many great departments, Norwich Police Department and the Community Police Unit, Norwich Public Utilities- the hardest working utility in Connecticut, great cultural centers here like Slater Museum, The Historical Society, The Founders Society, The Spirit of Broadway, The Leffingwell House Museum, Otis Library and others. The fact is that selling Norwich to businesses is fun and rewarding because of these organizations and their supporters.

Mostly, we thank you, the citizens and workforce of Norwich and the region.  You make this place what it is and help us do our job by being here.