Heritage Mill zoning district in Pawcatuck is seen as an aid to small businesses

Heritage Mill zoning district in Pawcatuck is seen as an aid to small businesses

The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — The Planning and Zoning Commission has approved the establishment of a new Heritage Mill zoning district that will make it easier for small businesses to locate in several mill properties along the Pawcatuck River.

Because the town staff will be able to approve permits for some uses in the new zone, investors will be able to avoid the longer, more expensive process of commission review.

“It removes the risk for interested businesses,” said Jason Vincent, director of planning for Stonington. “It’s a strong economic development step for the town.”

The heritage zone includes the former Yardney Technical Products mill, a 260,000 square foot space at 82 Mechanic St., which has been vacant since 2012. Also included is the former Harris manufacturing plant, now known as Pawcatuck Business Park, a 276,000 square foot collection of buildings at 100 Mechanic St. that currently houses Cottrell Brewery, CrossFit Stonington and General Dynamics Information Technology.

As of June 6, when the district is activated, three properties on Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck, comprising 26.7 acres, will be changed from their longtime designation as an M-1 manufacturing zone, which permits businesses such as a fabricating or assembly operation, a lumber mill or an agricultural processing facility, with other uses requiring a special use permit.

The new zone’s uses include retail and wholesale sales, small retail restaurants, family entertainment, health clubs, distilleries, and indoor commercial recreational activities, among others; manufacturing and office uses continue to be allowed. Any new construction or uses requiring a special permit would continue to be brought before the commission.

At their May 2 meeting, commission members expressed reservations about the town staff approving some of the uses, such as processing of agricultural products, because the categories were seen as too broad. The problem was remedied by placing a 10,000-square-foot maximum on those categories for approval by the staff; anything above would go through the permitting process with the commission. The zoning change was approved Tuesday.

At public hearings on April 18 and May 2, the heritage zone received support from representatives of the Economic Development Commission, the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce.

First Selectman Rob Simmons said the new zone would promote economic growth.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our community and state,” Simmons said. “We need to provide the tools for these businesses to form, grow and flourish, and this new zoning district is one of the ways to do it.”

Dan Barber, chief broker and managing partner of Northeast Property Group in New London, who has been the property manager and real estate agent for the mill properties for more than five years, said the new district reflected the town’s commitment to bringing in new businesses.

“Over the past year, town officials have invested a lot of energy in this neighborhood. They’ve allocated funding to study how to remove these properties from the flood zone and created this new district,” Barber said. “It’s great to see such energy and effort.”



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