Comp. Plan Completion Put Off Till Town Fills Post

BERLIN – With no progress reported on the new Berlin comprehensive plan draft since this summer, and no Planning superintendent in place to complete the document, the roadmap for the town’s future seems to be at a stand still.

Work on the draft was “very close” to completion, previous Planning Superintendent Stacey Weisner reported to the Berlin Planning Commission at the end of July, but no progress appears to have been made since Weisner’s subsequent departure for another position.

The new plan, which had originally been slated for completion by the end of summer, will be taken up once again in mid-November, when the Berlin Planning Commission will consider how to proceed with completion of the document.

“I think it’s very close to completion,” Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary said.

Planning Commission Chair Pete Cosby added, “It hasn’t been done. It should be done.”

The options, said Bambary, are to wait for the hire of a new planning and zoning superintendent or to hire a consultant.

Whether to hire a consultant would be a decision for the Berlin Mayor and Council, said Cosby, who said he did not have a position on the use of outside help in getting the draft done.

“We’re still filling the position of zoning [and planning] administrator. Until that’s filled, the first draft won’t be pushed through,” Cosby said. “One of the first priorities of the new planning administrator should be, let’s get on with it.”

Council Vice President Gee Williams acknowledged the comprehensive plan needs to get going.

“I think we’re all anxious to have it done. The comprehensive plan needs to get back on the front burner as soon as the new superintendent is in place,” said Williams.

According to Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale, the hiring process for the new planning and zoning head is moving along.

Bambary expects to begin interviewing candidates for the planning superintendent post by mid-November, with the post filled by the new year.

Cosby said he is not bothered by the delay in filling the planning administration post because it ensures the town is searching for the right candidate.

“I’m sure they’re as interested as we are in getting someone good in there,” Cosby said.

Either way, the next comprehensive plan draft will have to wait, while the new superintendent, or consultant, is hired, learns the town’s code, rules and regulations.

Meanwhile, consultant Tim Bourcier, handling some of the work in the planning department until the new head is hired, will look at the current draft of the comprehensive plan to see if it meets state requirements, and assess its weaknesses, Bambary said.

The planning commission will also be consulted.

“We’ve got to find out where we are,” Bambary said.

Last fall, Weisner estimated that the document could be complete by early 2007. Now, there is little likelihood that the plan will be complete even by early 2008. 

The new comprehensive plan has been evolving for several years, with an early draft generated by Sandy Coyman, a former member of the Berlin planning commission and head of Comprehensive Planning for Worcester County.

This time last year the draft as reworked by Weisner was presented to the planning commission for preliminary comments, and the commission held a work session in early December.

A public input session was then held in late March. That discussion then was incorporated into the next draft.

In May, the plan was reported as nearly complete and there was talk of the planning commission holding another public input session over the summer. That never occurred.

Once the planning commission signs off on the comprehensive plan, the Berlin Mayor and Council must hold at least one public hearing before approving the document. Then the county and state agencies get their crack at the plan.

“In reality, we want to have the plan in place well before the approval of any new EDUs. That’s the critical thing,” Williams said.

The new wastewater treatment plant, in the planning process now, will provide wastewater service for hundreds of new homes in projects that have been stalled for the last few years as sewer capacity has been virtually all assigned. Williams said that the town will put together a plan governing how many EDUs are released at one time and when.

“I doubt the Mayor and Council is going to allow [building projects] to proceed that are not already in the pipeline, or any new properties, ‘til the comprehensive plan is in place to help guide the town,” Williams said.

For the last several months, there has been little urgent planning business, which Cosby attributed to both the absence of a planning superintendent and the downswing in the housing and building market.

“I think things are going just fine,” Cosby said. “There’s always going to be controversy over development.”