BERLIN — Despite getting a green light from the Historic District Commission (HDC), a property owner in Berlin was denied a variance by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to demolish and reconstruct a troubled property.
“Our hands are tied from the standpoint of the code,” BZA Chairman Joe Moore told property owner Ernest Gerardi.
Gerardi asked the BZA for a variance to demolish a rundown building in the town’s B-1 Historic District and to rebuild a new residence on the lot. However, because the town code only allows such a variance if the property presents an “extra hardship for a unique property” to the owner if the variance is not granted, the BZA turned down Gerardi’s request after finding no such hardship.
“It [town code] is a very strict standard,” said Moore.
He added that the BZA did not enjoy making the decision since Gerardi’s proposal to demolish a damaged building and replace it with a newly built one would improve the town landscape. Moore also acknowledged how much Gerardi has done in the past for Berlin in terms of construction and renovation.
“We recognize what you’ve done for the town,” he said.
Gerardi disagreed with the board’s interpretation of the code, asserting it was “stretching it to the technical degree.”
“People on both sides want to see it [the property] cleaned up and replaced,” Gerardi said.
When asked if he might consider using the property for commercial instead of residential use, Gerardi pointed out that the area had no real need for a commercial enterprise on that street.
“Frankly, it’s a dead end street,” he said.
As it stands, demolition on the property was approved by the HDC, and Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward informed the BZA that Berlin could actually order the demolition of the property if it saw fit.
While the HDC also approved reconstruction, it did so with the knowledge that the BZA would have the final say. If Gerardi does not decide to seek another use for the property beyond residential, it will likely spend time as a vacant lot.
“I think there’s a hardship on the town letting it sit there,” said Gerardi.
The BZA acknowledged that to a degree, but Moore maintained that the board was legally bound to rule against Gerardi’s proposal.
“A variance is a special animal,” said Moore.