Berlin Talks Growth Rules

BERLIN – A work session held by the Berlin Mayor and Council this week resulted in some significant changes proposed for a future sewer policy.

The changes will only become official when the council votes on the modifications during a general meeting.

The original idea to restrict future developments to 50 EDUs per building phase came under fire from the Berlin Utilities Commission (BUC), which contended that developers needed more flexibility. The BUC suggested changing the regulation to allow more than one phase, with the accompanying 50 EDUs, to be approved simultaneously.

The restriction was suggested as a way to keep developers needing large numbers of EDUs from “sitting on” the capacity without using it, preventing other projects from going forward.

“The idea is to avoid tying the town’s hands and giving a bit more freedom to act depending on conditions,” said BUC Chair Eric Quisgard.

Financing could also be difficult for a developer to get if sewer capacity allocation was too limited, some fear.

“It could potentially be a roadblock. You don’t want to discourage developers. You don’t want to make it hard to develop here,” said Quisgard.

The council, staff and BUC also discussed changes to the assignment of sewer capacity to new commercial operations in town, determining that the town would consider the sewer actually used at a location for the last decade to guide new allocations if zoning guidelines did not cover the issue.

“There’s got to be a point where history is history, and today is today,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams. “There’s no grandfathering.”

Developers have three years to use EDUs once assigned, with one extension of six months offered, under the draft allocation policy, but that would interfere with financing, developer Troy Purnell said.

EDUs cannot be lost if the ready to serve fee, $25 a month, is kept current, Planning and Zoning Superintendent Chuck Ward said.

Property owners seeking new EDUs will pay a non-refundable 10 percent of the special connection fee upfront to cover administrative costs, and the rest of the connection fee paid when the building permit is granted.

Originally, the town planned to require three payments, of 10, 50, and 40 percent, but a few disagreed, saying that requiring large payments halfway through the process made no sense and meant the developer would be paying interest on the borrowed funds for longer.

Purnell asked the town council to consider making that initial payment refundable if the project is delayed or scrapped. Staff suggested allowing the town council to approve a refund.

“That’s what we’re trying to avoid, these discretionary situations,” said Williams.

A BUC suggestion requiring sewer allocation requests to be approved by that body before going to the town council met with some skepticism.

“I think this is where people want to be able to talk to the elected officials about this,” said Williams.

The town already delegates a great deal of authority to the BUC, he said, more than most towns offer to an appointed committee. Sewer allocation is “the hottest of hot potatoes,” Williams said.

The BUC would make the recommendations over sewer allocation, but the town council would make the decisions, said BUC member Mike Beaman.

“Let’s try it and move on,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch.

Berlin faces a delicate balancing act, considering the current economy and the need to expand the wastewater plant to handle more customers. When those customers will appear is unknown.

“Expansion is a timing issue we have to make a judgment on,” said Williams.