BERLIN – Berlin’s planning department and commission have seen some turmoil in recent months, and that trend continued this week with the surprise replacement of a well-respected appointed official who had asked for an alternate to be named while he dealt with health issues.
Mayor Tom Cardinale appointed local businessman John Barrett to take resident Dave Rovansek’s seat on the commission at the Monday Mayor and Council meeting, reportedly to the surprise of Rovansek, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer in Baltimore.
Cardinale explained later this week that he did not want to replace Rovansek, but that the council had a policy of not appointing alternate or temporary members to commissions.
“It was decided a long time ago by the council that they didn’t wanted alternates. They want that seat filled,” Cardinale said.
Planning Commission Chair Pete Cosby supported the decision.
“I think bringing temporary members and alternates is probably not the best way to go,” said Cosby. “I felt his decision was a wise one under the circumstances.”
Rovansek’s seat cannot simply be left vacant as the commission needs an odd number of members, in this case seven, to prevent tie votes.
Rovansek will be first in line for the next planning commission vacancy, Cardinale said.
“Dave is on the top of the list to be reappointed when his health situation stabilizes and he feels able and ready to participate,” Cosby said.
Cardinale said, “We think that his health and family needs should come first. I didn’t want to handle it this way but I had no choice. We need that commission fully manned.”
Rovansek will be missed while he is away from the commission.
“Dave’s expertise in engineering and architectural matters is a great help to us and Dave has a lot of good ideas and philosophies for the town,” Cosby said. “I want Dave on the commission. We want him back as soon as we can get him.”
It was also announced at the meeting that Cosby himself had been reappointed to another term as planning commission chair.
“I think I’m probably the right person to have it and be on there. The mayor wanted me to remain on,” Cosby said. “I think we need some continuity on the commission in these times.”
Cosby said his major priority is to get the Berlin comprehensive plan completed and approved. His goals also include a stable planning commission and stable planning department, which has gone without a planning and zoning superintendent since the summer.
“We also have to come to grips with whether we want to establish a master plan for the town so we all know the direction we’re going,” Cosby said.
The commission could pursue plans for certain areas of town in lieu of a master plan, areas like the Route 346 corridor which has gotten a lot of attention in recent years.
“As each project comes in, we can aspire to reach the overall direction of the area,” Cosby said.
The town’s zoning code also needs some improvements.
“We need to revise our entire zoning code to bring it up to date and up to speed,” he said. “We have some house cleaning to do in our code to get it in a form that is modern and workable.”
The slow down in the housing market could be a blessing for Berlin, said Cosby, allowing the town to make some necessary changes.
“When the economy comes back, Berlin is going to get hit hard and we’ve got to be ready for it,” Cosby said.
Although the planning department lacks a head, consultant Tim Bourcier has been taking over some of those functions in the interim.
“I’ve been working on a few things, trying to get the department in order,” Bourcier reported to the Berlin town council Monday night.
“Lots of luck,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch.
Bourcier has been working on a streamlined system to make it simpler for staff and the public to get through the building permit process and provide a consistent project review process.
“I’m glad to hear you talk about putting a system in place,” Councilman Dean Burrell said. “We’ve had issues with expectations.”
The comprehensive plan is another focus for Bourcier.
“Is it going to be done within six months and not a year?” Lynch asked.
Bourcier felt it would be done well before next November’s due date.
The plan draft in hand, said Bourcier, does have some shortcomings. While the plan includes many goals, there is less research to back those targets up. This must be verified by statistical trends, he said.
“I’d like to see a ballpark on what it’s going to cost us,” Cardinale said.
According to Bourcier, if he and his firm take on the plan, the cost could be low.
“We’re not starting from nothing. It’s more of a revision than a whole redo,” Bourcier said.