Council Rejects Request For Water Meter Variance

BERLIN – The new Barrett Medical Building must replace and move several newly installed water meters despite Becker Morgan Group’s pleas for a variance, the Berlin Mayor and Council decided last week.

Builders installed the wrong number of meters to begin and then the wrong model in the ceilings of the units later.

“What they’re asking us is to basically cast a blind eye for not putting these where they’re supposed to be,” said Council Vice President Gee Williams. “That’s not right.”

Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale cautioned, “I think it’s going down a slippery path to allow those conditions to exist.”

When Becker-Morgan Group brought the plans to the town, the building was described as administrative office space for Atlantic General Hospital, Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary said.

As an office building with one owner, the structure was only required to install one large water meter.

“It was after that they decided to condominiumize,” said Bambary.

The Berlin Mayor and Council was surprised to hear Monday night that the 10-unit building had been condominiumized.

The intention was to always submit it as a condominium building, according the developers.

“I do feel there’s been some communication issues on both sides as we move forward,” said Ernie Olds of Becker-Morgan Group.

Williams said that the project had not been presented as a condominium to Berlin. They never said it would not be a condominium, Olds countered.

With units being sold and owned individually, town code calls for separate water meters, which the builders reluctantly installed, although they first protested the change. However, those individual units were installed inside, and not outside, the building.

Berlin meter readers are not allowed to enter private property.

“Now you’re asking us to bail you out,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch.

Jurisdictions rarely if ever require separate meters per condo unit, according to one project engineer.

“In all due respect, I don’t care what Ocean City does. I don’t care what Pocomoke does,” said Cardinale.

According to an Atlantic General Hospital representative, the intention was always to use the building for physician offices.

“It certainly wasn’t clear to us,” said Lynch.

Feeding the individual units into an overall meter is the industry standard for condominiumized offices, according to the builders.

Some of the confusion may have arisen when the town apparently verbally approved a single meter six months ago.

Bambary said that the verbal agreement concerned the allocation of water and had nothing to do with the physical set-up of the meters.

“It was always one meter, one unit,” she said.

The council has required two other properties to comply with the same water meter standards in the last year, said Williams.

“There’s no point in having standards if we don’t enforce them,” Williams said.

The builders would prefer to use one overall water meter and bill the condo owners themselves. The current set-up includes multiple ways to shut off water service, and allows the town to deal with only one entity, the condo association, which is good for the town, the builders said, and there would be less paper work for more invoicing.

The building, said Olds, was designed with a single meter in mind, and the pipes are set up that way. Pipes would need to be rerouted.

“That’s certainly not our problem,” said Councilwoman Ellen Lang.

“Had we known earlier we certainly could have made that change,” said Olds.

With only four of the 10 units occupied, Councilman Elroy Brittingham said,  “Now would be the time to bring it up to town standards.”

Cardinale added, “Every time you move somebody in you’re making the situation worse.”

It could cost Becker-Morgan up to $30,000 to make the changes.