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Norwich Facilities Committee Forwards Recommendation to Selectboard

Editor's Note: Elements of this story, originally headlined "Norwich Panel: Church St. for Police, Fire," will be corrected in a new story to be published in the Saturday, June 28 Valley News.

Norwich — The Capital Facilities & Planning Committee narrowed its search for a new police and fire station last Friday, recommending that the Selectboard extend an offer to the owner of the former ABC Dairy property on Church Street that would be contingent on further inspection of the site.

Committee members, while eager to move the town’s emergency services out of aging facilities at Firehouse Lane that were originally meant to be temporary, are concerned that the Church Street property may have insufficient sewage infrastructure. The site was considered years ago for affordable housing, but its wastewater facilities had lacked the capacity for residential use. Residents had also worried in the past that the property, which once housed the agricultural retailer Agway, could have some residual fuel contamination.

The current owner, David Clem of Lyme Properties, has since renovated the building for office and warehouse use. Norwich Town Manager Neil Fulton said that in 2011, when the town was considering buying the property, Clem valued it at $1.2 million, but offered to sell for $950,000. Fulton and Clem haven’t discussed prices since, but if the Selectboard were to go ahead with the plan, Fulton would lead the negotiation.

Clem did not respond to requests for comment.

Based on the 2011 price, Bread Loaf, the architecture company that the town hired to plan the project, expected the move to ABC Dairy to cost $2.7 million, including expenses related to energy efficiency and connecting the facility to town water. Fulton said the resulting tax increase would come to less than $100 for the average Norwich resident, based on a mean property value of $400,000.

At the meeting, Selectman Steve Flanders summarized some alternatives to the plan that had been discussed. One was what he called the “village option,” so named because it would maintain the current Firehouse Lane facilities in the center of town. The other was the “split option,” which would temporarily relocate the police station in order to allow the fire department space to operate while the town renovated the old building.

But the committee concluded that the costs for all of the options would be about the same, and recommended that the town strike a deal with Clem to buy the Church Street property, provided it verifies that wastewater treatment and contamination levels were within acceptable limits.

Three of the Selectboard’s five members were present at the meeting on Friday, but gave no indication of what they would decide.

Nevertheless, Selectboard Chair Christopher Ashley said it was clear that “No one would move forward until we were assured that indeed the site didn’t have contamination or had sufficient wastewater capacities for what we need.”

The Selectboard will address the issue during its next meeting on July 9.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.