Berlin Council Considers Historic District Expansion

BERLIN – The expansion of Berlin’s historic district will go back before the Berlin Town Council soon after the Berlin Planning Commission finally made a recommendation to approve the larger district.

The planning commission has discussed the expansion several times in recent months, concluding this week that the maps of the areas to be added are ready to go to the Berlin Town Council.

The commission also revisited its decision to remove the Purnell Crossing project site from the expanded historic area. At the February planning commission meeting, the commission voted to remove that property from the district, but several smaller pieces of property adjacent to the project site, most owned by Troy Purnell, were not excluded at that time.     

Purnell objected to inclusion in the historic district because the Purnell Crossing site was just a field, with no historic structures on it. He did not want any future changes to the project, which has been given site plan approval already, to be subject to review by the Historic District Commission.

The Historic District Commission does not have written guidelines, relying instead on a common sense approach determining whether building or changes to structures fit with the character of the neighborhood.

“There’s not a lot of standards but they’re trying to keep things in keeping with the neighborhood,” said Berlin planning consultant Tim Bourcier.

“The historic commission has standards for color and conformity with the neighborhood,” said planning commission member Pete Cosby. “The commission has that authority. That’s the best tool in this town to preserve whatever we’ve got.”

Cosby said he did not want to homes at Purnell Crossing along Libertytown Rd. to face away from the street, which is contrary to the historic approach where houses face the road. If the property is not in the historic district, the town has no control over that, he said.

There will be a landscaping buffer, already approved by the planning commission, along the road, Purnell said.

“If we don’t recommend this in the historic district, we’re going to end up with exactly what we don’t want to have,” Cosby said.

Purnell said he’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting the site plan and other approvals for the project.

“I don’t want it to be an arbitrary decision of some board member to say we don’t like your house, you can’t build it,” he said.

The town needs standards said planning commission member Joe Hill. “If the expectations are too low, the system is broken,” said planning commission member Joe Hill.

The Purnell Crossing property has already been removed from the historic district expansion, planning commission chair Newt Chandler pointed out. “It’s out. It’s already site planned,” he said.

Cosby made a motion to remove the other small lots on Libertytown Rd. from the expansion maps, and to recommend that Berlin’s Town Council approve the expansion. The commission voted 5-1 to approve the motion.

“I just don’t agree with expanding the historic district,” said dissenting commission member John Barrett.

Others pointed out the property’s importance from a visual standpoint. “It’s unfortunate in my humble opinion,” said Cosby of the exclusion of that area. “It’s an important entrance to the town.”

Berlin needs to establish design standards for new architecture in town, Cosby said, suggesting that the town establish a committee to review architecture and advise the planning commission once those standards are in place.

“I think the commission doesn’t have the expertise to deal with these issues. It’s a constant headache,” Cosby said.