Berlin Looking To Expand Building Permit Requirements

BERLIN – Homeowners
might soon be required to get town permits for many home improvements in
Berlin, including some interior renovations, with an ordinance requiring the
new permits introduced this week by the Berlin Mayor and Council. 

Staff proposed adding
more permit requirements to keep better track of home renovations and
improvements inside and out, so future homeowners will know what has been done
to their house, said Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward.

The town is not trying
to collect more fees from residents, town administrator Tony Carson said.

Staffers have reportedly
had to play catch up with projects near completion, instead of handling issues
at the beginning.

“Sometimes these
projects are almost finished and we have to say, ‘hey, wait a second, stop,’”
said Carson.

Interior renovations,
not just exterior changes, will fall under the new regulation requirements if
the ordinance passes.

Interior finish work, such
as painting, wallpaper, tile, carpet, cabinets, countertops and the like, would
not be subject to the permit requirements.

It may seem odd to some
that the town wants to require permits or approvals for many interior
renovations, but the town wants to make sure that structural work is done
properly, Ward said.

Without a permit, the
new homeowner has no way to get information on work done by previous owners and
no means of knowing if that work was done correctly.

“It provides a
protection down the road to the next buyer,” said Ward.

People come into the
town’s Planning and Zoning Office and want to know what work has been done on
the house and what materials were used, he said. It’s particularly useful for
homeowners who buy older homes and want to know when certain infrastructure
projects were undertaken for future planning purposes.

Having work inspected is
also safer for the current homeowners, said Ward.

“We’re not trying to
peek in your windows or something,” he said.

Under the proposed
ordinance, many structural improvements in Berlin will require a building
inspector to sign off on whether the right materials are being used, or whether
the electrical system components, such as outlets, are in the right place.

The new regulations, as
drafted, would include exterior changes such as building additions, accessory
structures, structural interior renovation, roofing, siding, window
replacement, decks, driveways and other site modifications. Swing sets and
playground equipment would be exempt.

Keeping track of
projects from the beginning allows staff to step in and educate during the
improvements, said Ward, which is easier than enforcing a code violation.
Building inspectors can make sure that problems, such as rotten plywood on a
roof, are not simply covered up with new shingles.

Projects can also go
beyond their intended scope, such as when a homeowner replaces old windows,
only to find that the surrounding wall is in bad shape, Ward said, and must be
replaced. Staff would know to check on the progress of the work, and would be
on hand to work with the owner on their new problem.

“It makes us more
efficient because we know what’s happening,” Ward said.

Not all the work covered
under the proposed regulations would be subject to a permit fee and in some cases
just a simple approval would be needed.

“I’m not going to
recommend fees for every permit or approval,” said Ward. “In a lot of cases we
just want to be notified.”

A separate ordinance
would require a permit for large grading/land disturbance projects.

That ordinance could
reduce the amount of land a homeowner could clear for a garden or landscaping
purposes without a permit.

The proposed new grading
regulations are related to the town’s new responsibility for stormwater

The ordinance, as introduced,
restricts homeowners to impacting less than 500 square feet of ground.

“That’s not very much,”
council member Paula Lynch said.

Most lots in town are
6,000 to 13,000 square feet, Ward said, and the previous 3,000-square-foot
restriction seemed to be too much.

“You can’t hardly plant
some tomato plants before you have to get a grading permit,” Lynch said.

“What about gardens,
people tilling gardens in the spring?” asked Council member Lisa Hall.

“People have big
vegetable gardens,” Lynch said.

The 3,000-square-foot
allowance might be too liberal, said Mayor Gee Williams, but the proposed 500
square foot restriction might be too restrictive. He suggested the town council
think about it before the public hearing on Aug. 23.