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