Berlin Could Hire Consultant To Examine Route 346 Corridor

A
master plan focuses on how to practically achieve what the comprehensive plan
envisions.

The
zoning code will need to be revamped to match the new comprehensive plan.

“This
is what I really need,” said Berlin Planning and Zoning Superintendent Stacey
Weisner. “We don’t have any meat without the code.”

The
code is so outdated, Weisner said, that it still requires planning documents to
be submitted on linen paper.

The
master plan and code review process would take 10 months, said Dhiru Thadani,
an architect at nationally known architectural and planning firm Ayers Saint
Gross (ASG).

The
company proposes spending nine months developing the documents, with extensive
input from town residents and officials, and another month to make changes to
the drafts.

“The
process is really about engagement, engaging all the community and the
residents,” said Thadani. “You should see us as conductors.”

The
master plan would consider every property in Berlin and how it might be
developed or redeveloped, or left alone, to achieve the goals of the new
comprehensive plan.

ASG
has also suggested the town change to a form-based zoning code, which describes
what can and cannot be built.

“The
downtown has a particular character. It’s really wonderful and unique. It would
be a shame to bring things downtown that make it look like Anyplace, USA,”
Thadani said.

The
town could tell a consultant to concentrate on the Route 346 corridor plan
first, in the master plan and code process, Weisner said.

The
planning commission has been tossing around the idea of a Route 346 corridor
plan around for months, and although the plan has no official existence,
commission members have asked developers to enact the major points of the plan,
such as the addition of large street trees and parking in the rear.

Several
properties along the corridor, from the intersection of Route 818 to Route 50,
are currently undergoing development, or the approval and permitting process,
with other properties up for sale.

“It’s
one of the most immediate and fastest changing places where we need to get the
tiger by the tail,” said Planning Commission Chair Pete Cosby. “My feeling is
it should have a downtown feel to it and right now we’re not going in that
direction.”

Currently
Cosby said the planning commission is “shotgunning” approvals on Route 346
without any corridor or master plan.

“It
is by far the most immediate problem we have,” said Weisner.

Enforcement
of the plan could be tricky, with some lots in the town limits and others in
the county.

Cosby
said the town ought to start a movement toward annexing the out-of-town
properties on the boulevard.

Commissioner
Newt Chandler suggested offering incentives to land owners to come into town,
such as waiving the fee for the sewer hook up.

“Or
we could coordinate with the county planning commission to enforce our corridor
plan,” said Planning Commissioner Dave Rovansek. They are generally pretty
cooperative, he said.

Weisner
said she will talk to the county about it.

Some
of the issues facing the planning commission as Route 346 continues to
redevelop include such apparently mundane concerns as driveways on narrow lots
to ensure parking behind the building.

Commissioners
have already established a precedent on the south side of the boulevard
allowing parking in front, despite the stated objectives of the draft corridor
plan requiring parking out of sight behind buildings, because many lots on that
side are narrow and cannot accommodate a driveway, Cosby said.

On
the other hand, the streetscape would not necessarily look like the
commission’s vision with driveways between every building.

“This
is a continuing and practical problem,” Cosby said.

Commissioner
Joe Hill said the commission should try to inspire creative site design along
the corridor and not turn a blind eye to one side of the road.

“I
don’t think it’s a good idea to abandon the south side of the street,” said
Hill.

The
north side may be a different matter, with larger lots and more space,
officials said.

Hill
suggested bringing in a local planner to do the corridor plan, which should
cost less than the full master plan and code change process.

The
full process proposal the town has in hand from ASG could cost as much as
$250,000.

It is unclear whether
that project would need to be put out for bids. According to the town charter,
Weisner said architectural and engineering services do not have to be bid out.BERLIN
– The Berlin Planning Commission has recommended that the Berlin Mayor and
Council hire a consultant to work on a master plan and zoning code changes,
with the idea of having the consultant look at the Route 346 corridor early in
the process. 

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