Mayor Stands By Hotel Move, Despite Attorney General Opinion

BERLIN — In response to a letter from the Maryland Attorney General’s office criticizing interference with the Berlin Historic District Commission, Mayor Gee Williams once again reaffirmed his original decision to intervene.

The letter, which was issued Wednesday to Rodney Little, the Director of the Maryland Historic Trust, expresses the opinion that a town executive such as Williams does not have the authority to refuse to enforce a HDC ruling. It went on to state that any such interference could be considered “ultra vires” which is “an act beyond the expressed or implied powers of the government body.”

“The circumstances were unique,” Williams said in response, referring to a case last autumn involving Berlin’s Atlantic Hotel and its effort to replace wooden windows with vinyl.

Because the hotel is located in Berlin’s historic district, HDC approval of the window replacements was required. The hotel began replacing windows, however, without first contacting the HDC. When the commission ruled that those windows violated the historic code and would have to be removed, Williams stepped in, eliminating the case the day that it would have gone before the Board of Zoning Appeals. He chose to allow the hotel to keep all of the windows already installed, though he asserted that any additional window replacements would need HDC approval.

“I stand by my decision,” said Williams, adding that his act was “appropriate for the circumstances.”

Williams cited a general effort to make Berlin more energy efficient as the main reason he chose to allow the hotel to keep the vinyl windows. He did admit, though, that it would have been “preferable if the applicants had asked permission first instead of forgiveness later.”

Williams’ decision to instruct the town’s Code Enforcement Officer not to enforce the commission’s ruling resulted in then-HDC President Bob McIntosh resigning in protest.

“It was an unfortunate situation all around,” said Williams. “What’s done is done and we should all move on.”

Williams made sure to clarify that he had no intention of interfering with the HDC in the future, but he did express his hope that the commission would be more lenient with similar cases in the future.