Board Rejects Historic Building Appeal

BERLIN – An appeal to the Berlin Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) seeking to save a historic telescope building, known as the Elizabeth White house, was rejected by the BZA this week because the appellants could not articulate grounds for the appeal.

BZA Vice Chair Woody Bunting repeatedly asked attorney King Burnett, representing appellants Sherrie Beckstead and Susan Moore, to enumerate the grounds for appeal, but Burnett could not satisfy the question.

Earlier this fall, the Historic District Commission (HDC), after denying property owner Pino Tomasello’s request to demolish the house and rebuild a replica twice before, voted 3 to 2 to allow the destruction of the historic structure due to the declining condition of the house.

The structure is thought to be the third oldest building in Berlin, dating back to 1820.

Main Street residents Beckstead and Moore want to see the historic house preserved. Beckstead lives next door and Moore leaves near the Elizabeth White House.

While there was some question over the timing of the submission of the appeal, the rejection of the appeal was not based on a technicality, said Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward.

The appellants had hoped to postpone the hearing until January, as neither they nor their witnesses were able to attend this week’s meeting. Burnett also said he had not seen the record or the transcript of the Historic District Commission’s meeting and had just taken on the case a week previously.

“We as a board have not had a meeting to discuss all the details,” said Bunting. “We’re just as clueless as you are. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing again and have new evidence presented.”

Bunting asked specifically whether the appeal was based on something the HDC had done incorrectly.

Burnett said he did not know the merits of the appeal and would not until he had seen the record of the HDC meeting. There are two ways to hear an appeal, he said, based on evidence presented to the BZA or based on a transcript of previous proceedings.

“It sounds to me like let’s get four or five more individuals and get a different vote,” Bunting said.

Burnett said the HDC made a mistake in going ahead with the third discussion of the Elizabeth White house when they knew his clients as interested parties could not attend the meeting.

“They’d like an opportunity to present evidence,” said Burnett.

Tomasello’s attorney, Hugh Cropper, objected to the postponement and the appeal, which, he said, was not filed in a timely manner.

“There are no grounds for that appeal,” said Cropper. “It is legally insufficient.”

The Berlin code requires appeals, when filed, to explain the grounds for the appeal, said Bunting, which the appeal paperwork does not show.

“The burden of the appeal is on the appellants,” said BZA attorney Mark Tilghman.

Burnett asked the BZA, if it decided against hearing the appeal, to send the matter back to the Historic District Commission for another hearing.

The BZA voted unanimously to refuse the postponement. Bunting said the board would hear the appeal that night if Burnett had a case to present.

Burnett said he did not have witnesses present and did not have the records of the HDC’s decision.

The BZA then voted unanimously to reject the appeal since no grounds were shown and to affirm the decision of the Historic District Commission.

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