Planners Seek Consultant To Draft Architecture Rules

BERLIN – After months of discussion, the Berlin Planning
Commission has voted to request funding for a consultant to write architectural
standards for the town, an effort that joins work on two other documents
seeking to establish building and growth principles.

Berlin staff reported this week that the new draft of the
town comprehensive plan is nearly complete, while the planning commission
agreed to meet with its Worcester County counterpart on the Route 346 corridor
plan.

The commission bit the bullet at the meeting and voted,
5-2, to ask the Mayor and Council to fund a consultant to write enforceable
architectural standards. Commission members Newt Chandler and Phyllis Purnell
voted against making the request.

“We’ve been talking about this for four years. I’m tired
of talking about it,” said Commission Chair Pete Cosby.

The need for architectural standards has been a perpetual
topic of discussion among the planning commission for months, but this is the
first time members have taken decisive action towards achieving that goal.

The decision was prompted by the need to enforce
conditions laid down by the planning commission on site plans.

Commission Vice President Dave Rovansek had brought up
concerns over site elements that did not match the plan when actually built. He
cited the stormwater pond at the nearly complete Barrett Medical Building. On
the plans, Rovansek said, the pond was shown in a natural contour and that is
what the commission approved.

“It’s not the same shape as it was on the approved site
plan,” he said. “The pond as built is rectangular.

Planning commission attorney Ed Baker said he questioned
whether the town has enforcement authority over an aesthetic issue.

“If we don’t have authority, we should get it,” Rovansek
said.

Joe Hill, a commission member, remarked the commission was
no closer to enforceable standards than it had been nine months ago.

“We have things being built in this town that don’t belong
here,” Cosby said.

Cosby estimated the consultant would cost $25,000 to
$30,000. Baker said he could not undertake the work himself, as he does not
have expertise on architectural standards, although “the legal work is not that
difficult.”

Some in attendance pointed to similar plans in neighboring
areas.

“Ocean City has one and it’s beautifully done,” said
citizen Marge Coyman. “Norfolk, Va. has a beautiful one.”

Town planners agreed similar plans have been successful
elsewhere. “It’s nothing new,” Cosby said.

Others said the requested funding would help the town
achieve what it hopes for in terms of standards.

“I think it would be money well spent,” Rovansek said.

The council will consider the funding request during
upcoming budget deliberations.

Revisions to Berlin’s draft comprehensive plan are nearly
complete, and the town planning commission plans to hold another public hearing
this summer before turning the plan over to the town council.

The planning commission will schedule the next public
hearing at their next meeting.

Cosby said he would like to hold a work session for the
commission members on the draft before the public hearing is held. The next
draft of the plan will be available to interested parties in hard copy and
electronically when complete, said Berlin Planning and Zoning Superintendent
Stacey Weisner, in two to three weeks.

Hill inquired whether all comments made at the March
public hearing had been included in the new draft.

“It’s not my place to choose. I put everything in,” said
Weisner.

In the one case where speakers made conflicting comments,
she said she included the one that agreed with the planning commission’s philosophy,
but that she would also add in the other remarks so the commission members
could consider them.

Much work remains to be done on the comprehensive plan
before the town council sees it with the new mapping not yet begun.

The Route 346 corridor plan, another project that has been
part of the planning commission’s dialogue for months, will be discussed with
Worcester County, as the corridor lies partially in the town, and partially in
the county.

Weisner pointed out that the draft plan has never been
approved.

“But we’ve always followed it,” Cosby said.

Weisner said the formal plan needs to be forwarded to the
county before any discussion.

“We have it drawn up,” Weisner said. “We need to send that
to the county.”

Representatives from the commission, and staff, will meet
with the county planning commission in June to hold preliminary discussions,
using the Berlin draft plan as a starting point.

While Hill would like the plan to govern everything from
sidewalks to speed limits, there may be some common sense boundaries on what
can be done with that corridor.

“In a perfect world, we’d call a moratorium on development
there,” Cosby said. “We’ve got to be practical.”

 

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