BERLIN – While some questioned Berlin Mayor Gee Williams’ decision to intercede in a Historic District Commission (HDC) ruling, it doesn’t seem likely, at this point, there will be any backlash from it, either legally or from residents.
“I’ve never gotten so much support,” said Williams, claiming that several people have approached him with positive attitudes over the issue. “Really, the support is overwhelming.”
The issue began in November, when the Atlantic Hotel approached the HDC with a request to install vinyl window replacements. Because the vinyl was not as historic as the original wood, the HDC deemed the replacements in violation of town code.
Several windows were replaced before HDC permission was sought, however, it was an act that hotel representatives deemed a “misunderstanding”. Nonetheless, it aroused suspicion amongst commissioners.
Before the case was to come up in front of the Board of Zoning Appeals for a second look, Williams stepped in and granted the hotel the right to keep the windows already installed, an act that caused then HDC Chairmen Bob McIntosh to resign.
“Sometimes government needs to show restraint,” said Williams in defense of his decision.
According to Williams, Berlin can update some building materials and technology while preserving its historic integrity.
Immediately after McIntosh’s resignation, Councilwoman Lisa Hall brought up the possibility of the council meeting with Town Attorney Dave Gaskill to discuss the legality of Williams’ use of power. Instead of arranging a meeting, Hall first reportedly spoke with Gaskill individually.
“Lisa Hall called me and that was the end of it,” Gaskill said.
According to Gaskill, he explained the situation to Hall and expressed the opinion that Williams was within his right as mayor to overturn the HDC’s verdict.
“It was a decision that an executive could make,” stated Gaskill.
Gaskill also responded to a remark made by McIntosh, who said that the HDC did not have the authority to order the windows removed, only to declare them in violation of town code. According to McIntosh, once the windows were in violation of code, it was up to the code enforcement officer to order them taken off the building, and that Williams was not allowing that enforcement officer to do his job. Gaskill disagreed, saying that the way he interpreted town regulations, “they [the HDC] do have the authority to have the windows removed.”
When asked his opinion on the decision, Councilman Troy Purnell remarked that the entire thing was a “very unfortunate situation.” However, he did not express any concern over the mayor’s decision.
“If the council wants to discuss it, we’ll discuss it,” he said, adding that neither Hall nor anyone else had approached him seeking to look into the matter.
As of Wednesday, Williams is confident that the issue is settled. He conveyed a desire to move forward, to work with the HDC and McIntosh’s successor, who has not yet been appointed.
“There’s a need to accommodate changes in materials and technology,” said Williams.
However, he stressed the fact that he isn’t trying to change or control the commission.
“I’m not telling them what they can do,” said Williams. “In the end, we’re all just citizens trying to do what is right.”
Hall could not be reached for comment this week.