For Berlin, Apartments Over Commercial ‘A No Brainer’

BERLIN – In a swift decision rendered with almost no discussion, Berlin’s Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend a code change formally allowing apartments over commercial space in downtown Berlin.

Builder Ron Cascio made the request on behalf of a redevelopment project along Pitts St., between Goober’s restaurant and the old Comcast Cable offices.

The current Berlin code does not permit dwellings in the town center, although there are many apartments in use over existing commercial real estate along Main Street and other areas.

“It makes no sense at all,” Cascio said.

The Planning Commission agreed.

“Downtown Berlin has always had residential overlap of commercial,” Planning Commission Chair Newt Chandler said.

Cascio later estimated that downtown Berlin is home to about 20 apartments.

Mixed-use neighborhoods with a combination of commercial and residential space, a tenet of Smart Growth policies, has gotten a lot of attention in the Berlin area recently.

“It makes sense,” Chandler said. “I think you got a no brainer.”

That text amendment should already exist, he said.

“We could be putting 35 to 40 more people right downtown to support those local businesses,” Cascio said after the meeting.

The Berlin code actually prohibits residential units downtown, in an attempt to preserve commercial space in the town center from redevelopment into single-family homes.

“I wouldn’t know why you wouldn’t want apartments over top of commercial space,” said Cascio.

The amendment, if passed, would also bring non-complying residential units into compliance.

Cascio said he made sure the text amendment clearly restricted residential units to the second floor of commercial units. The amendment adding residential to permitted uses downtown reads, “Dwellings above street level floor where street level floor is utilized for commercial, retail, or otherwise as allowed in this chapter.”

The Berlin Mayor and Council must approve the text amendment.

“I think it needs to be a part of the code. I think we want residential units above commercial space. It just adds to the vibrancy of downtown,” Cascio said.