ONE STEP AT A TIME

Fall is upon us and Wednesday is October 1st, which in Norwich means it’s also Walktober.  What is Walktober? Walktober is run by the Last Green Valley, a non-profit that promotes the 35 town National Heritage Park that Norwich is a part of.  The event is run for the entire month of October and features walking tours led by locals.  It also includes water events and bicycle rides.    This year’s Walktober events were organized by groups all over the city coordinated by Dianne Brown of the Norwich Historical Society.

What do walks through Norwich have to do with economic development you may ask?  Economic development is about concerted actions that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area.   The goal of the Walktober events that Norwich hosts is to educate people about all of the wonderful “hidden gems” the City has to offer.  In doing this we hope to enable an economic impact for local businesses through increased traffic and awareness.  For example did you know that Thayer’s Marine now rents kayaks?  With three rivers all converging on the Norwich Harbor it makes Thayer’s the perfect place to rent a kayak.  Thayer’s is sponsoring a Kayak/Canoe Tour of the Norwich Harbor on Saturday October 4th at 10 AM.  If this is of interest to you call NCDC today to register, spots are limited.

Also, did you know that there is a non-profit working to create a Botanical Garden in Norwich?  The Chelsea Botanical Garden has been in the planning stages for several years and they are now in the fundraising stage.  You can hike through the woods of Mohegan Park on October 25th at 1PM as the leader presents the vision for this multi-million-dollar project.  If you are interested meet the group at 25 Mahan Drive.

Norwich Public Utilities (NPU) has been powering Norwich since 1904.  Our municipal utility provides reliable vital services to the community and uses revolutionary ideas to make projects happen.  Have you seen the Shetucket River Fish Lift?  Dams were built across Norwich tributaries in the 1800’s to help harness the power of water, but blocked spawning runs of shad, alewife and other species.  NPU worked with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to install a lift at the Greenville Dam in 1996 in order to help the fish spawn up stream. Join NPU on a tour of the hydroelectric station on October 4th at 10 AM or October 22 at 10AM and observe the fish lift first hand.  Meet the group at 7 Eighth Street.

How many restaurants do you think are in historic Downtown Norwich?  How many have you been to?  The 3rd Annual Grub Crawl in historic Downtown Norwich allows participants to tour several of them, get a sense of the history and learn about the diverse dining scene. You MUST REGISTER to take this free tour that includes samples from all the participating restaurants.  Join the Grub Crawl on October 26th at 3PM by Calling NCDC to register.

These walks plus over 30 MORE are all being led by various organizations throughout the City of Norwich.  With over 75 people attending the Downtown Zombie Walk last year and over 100 attending the Norwich Millionaires Triangle we are literally raising awareness about the great things in Norwich one step at a time.

Check out the calendar of Norwich walks so you too can join our amazing walk leaders to see all that Norwich has to offer!

UPDATING THE CITY’S COMPREHENSIVE PLAN

We can already hear the response to the headline: “Norwich doesn’t need another Plan!” So we figured we should tell you a little about this project and why we are working on it. First, it is true that Norwich has a lot of different plans. Many of the City’s plans were adopted more than 20 years ago, and many of the recommendations in those plans have long ago been implemented, but that is another story for another day. This article is about the Comprehensive Plan, which are the City’s Zoning Regulations and Zoning Map.

Few people think of zoning as a “plan,” but when you combine policies with geography (a map) indeed the result is a plan, as the combination of these two elements outline the rules that will help Norwich achieve the future that it envisions. For example, a vacant parcel of land that is zoned for business purposes represents a future condition that Norwich wants: a building housing a new business; rather than the current condition (vacant land). By describing the desired condition on a map, the city is sharing that knowledge with others to enable potential buyers to understand the city’s vision. When linked with regulations, the details about how that vision can be achieved are then communicated to interested parties.

How does zoning work? State law enables towns to adopt a comprehensive plan. In Norwich, the comprehensive plan is administered by the City Council, and the day-to-day administration is overseen by the Commission on the City Plan and the city’s Department of Planning and Neighborhood Services. All properties in the city are “zoned,” which means that there is at least one set of rules that apply to how a property owner can use their land. The basic elements are whether the property is zoned for residential (housing) or business uses, but there are many nuances. Digging deeper into the use classifications, property owners will see lists of principal uses that are allowed, as well as accessory uses (such as whether you can install a swimming pool, garden or shed). All uses have a permit process, which ranges from no permit required through special permits.

Some uses include additional rules and standards to ensure that the use falls within acceptable levels in the city. Off-street parking, for example, is required for almost all uses, and the size of the parking lot is related to the size of the building and the type of use in the building. Backus Hospital has a different parking requirement than Norwichtown Commons because of the rate in which parking is anticipated to be used. The regulations provide guidance regarding the minimum number of spaces that are anticipated to be needed, along with size requirements for the individual space. This approach has been developed to control how one property might impact adjacent properties and the public’s transportation network.

Zoning is not meant to be a static tool, and as time progresses new ways to address topics, such as off-street parking, arise, as do new land use activities that we had not previously imagined. Also, every ten years the city updates the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), an overall vision for the city, and the comprehensive plan needs to be updated to reflect the ideas in that document. This leads to why Norwich Community Development Corporation (NCDC) is involved. NCDC works on economic development opportunities which are largely controlled by the city’s policies and plans.

During the POCD update, NCDC played a very active role in trying to help the city think through where and how future development may be enabled and promoted. This process led to a series of topic-specific plans, such as the economic development plan, that highlights opportunity areas. It is then up to the comprehensive plan to convert the inventory of opportunity areas into actionable places, where property owners (current or future) are empowered to implement the city’s vision.

Ultimately, a large portion of the POCD will be implemented with private capital from developers and property owners that share Norwich’s vision, appreciate the market opportunity here, and have the knowhow to pursue the development. It is up to the comprehensive plan to make sure that the desires of the community are purposefully given and that the development community has clear direction on how to satisfy those desires. NCDC is involved because we want to see Norwich continue to promote itself as a business-friendly community, while embracing the qualities that make this a nice community in which to live and play. If you have any questions about this project, please contact Jason Vincent | [email protected] | 860.887.6964

To see the adopted regulations, please click HERE

The Four Degrees of “Change of Use”

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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: norwichpublicutilities.com/images/sewer-cap-fee.pdf

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: crossfitpayback.com/getting-started and facebook.com/crossfitpayback