BERLIN — An administrative waiver allowing a developer to opt out of the most recent stormwater regulations raised some hackles during Wednesday’s Berlin Planning Commission meeting.
Although the request was eventually approved, the commissioners made it clear the town should tread lightly when granting similar waivers in the future.
The administrative waiver will allow developer Main Street Housing LLC to revert to a previous set of looser stormwater regulations that were in place when they began planning a housing project on Tripoli Street of about 40 units more than three years ago. The most recent stormwater regulations were incorporated about two years ago.
Getting what the commission seemed to consider something of a free pass didn’t sit well with several members.
“It’s curious. I’m curious. It is disturbing,” said Commissioner Pete Cosby.
Commissioner Newt Chandler told the rest of the body that he had “heard there was a dubious reason” for the waiver being granted and questioned who would have the authority to waive the current regulations.
“If waivers are going to be granted, who makes that arbitrary, capricious decision when it should be a vote of our council to do that?” he asked.
Mayor Gee Williams defended the decision which he said was made by town stormwater engineer Darl Kolar. If a project had completed most of its stormwater planning under a prior set of regulations, then it would be eligible for a waiver of any new regulations that came along after planning was completed, according to Williams.
“If projects are substantially completed with their stormwater management or their stormwater engineering plan, then the town may grant an administrative waiver,” he said. “But they still have to meet all of the requirements that pre-existed that.”
The mayor added that this is not a unique situation as a similar waiver was granted to the Cottages at Berlin development. Despite only being obligated to meet an older set of more flexible requirements, Williams asserted that the Main Street Housing project will be exceptional.
“The way it was designed … that if a project’s stormwater engineering was substantially complete then they didn’t have to go back and tear all that up and start over again,” he said. “But from everything I’ve heard about and seen with this particular development it is top floor all around. It’s an excellent design and is going to be a real asset to the community.”
It is clear that the commission harbors doubts about the decision to grant the waiver, however, though all agreed to wait for facts to come to light before rushing towards an opinion. If the waiver isn’t handled properly, the developer might actually end up stuck and unable to move forward with the project, noted Commissioner Ron Cascio.
“I’m asking for the facts. I’m trying to save the guy from going down a dead-end road, what might eventually be a dead-end road,” he said.
As to why the waiver is being granted, Cascio argued that the only real reason is to avoid the costs associated with the most recent and more stringent stormwater regulations.
“Well I’ll speculate why. Because they’re so expensive to meet so that’s why somebody would seek a waiver,” he said.