Berlin Seeking Input On Architectural Standards

BERLIN — The Berlin Historic District Commission (HDC) met this week to discuss signage at the Chamber of Commerce, alterations to PNC Bank and the eventual adoption of town architectural standards and guidelines.

First on the agenda were proposed alterations to signs adorning the chamber building on Main St. Chamber Executive Director Olive Mawyer came before the commission with designs for a new frontal and side sign. The commission immediately had problems with the insignia meant for the side of the building.

“It isn’t what I’d call a first-rate looking sign,” said Commissioner Mary Moore.

Moore said the design was decent but since the chamber is the face of Berlin to visitors, she was expecting something much more unique.

“You really are the person out there front and center,” Moore told Mawyer.

Moore added that signage was the beginning of a quality building and suggested Mawyer look into other designs. Mawyer agreed that the chamber should have quality signage but explained the limitations of the budget. At $425, the current design was affordable, but stretching beyond that would be difficult.

Additionally, delaying while waiting for funds might mean the sign wouldn’t be up before this summer. Moore suggested going before the Mayor and Council to ask for additional funds.

“I’d rather see you wait,” agreed Commissioner Betty Hammond.

Mawyer promised to hold out for a more elaborate design, though it would also be more expensive. After providing a sample of what that sign would look like, the commission approved it, though there’s no timeline on when the chamber will have the funds to produce it.

The only other case on the HDC docket was for potential alterations to the PNC Bank drive-thru.

“It’s getting pretty seedy looking,” said Herb Bounds, an architect who spoke on behalf of the bank.

Bounds proposed giving the drive-thru a “facelift” by raising the canopy 8-10 inches and placing scalloped shingles above the window up to the roofline.

Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward pointed out that the shingles were a worthy attempt by the bank to try to blend together the contrasting design of the building.

“It’s very difficult to compliment both types of architecture,” he said.

Unlike with the chamber sign, the commission was immediately and unanimously in favor of the alterations.

Ward briefed the HDC on its role in the coming months when the town may look to adopt architectural standards and guidelines.

“There really is no established set of criteria,” said Ward.

Ward spoke about the topic last month to the Berlin Planning Commission as well and said he wants everyone who would look at the standards to be involved in the discussion that generates them.

“It would be an all-encompassing document … it ultimately becomes the vision of the streetscape of the town,” he said.

Currently, Ward said that Berlin commissions are judging everything without a concrete set of criteria to use as a base, meaning each version of a commission may have a different opinion on how well a building fits into the town. Adopting guidelines would take much of the guesswork out of the process and would allow developers thinking about construction in Berlin to gauge how to craft their designs.

The HDC voted to hold a special work session next Wednesday to discuss possible guidelines. After receiving input, Ward plans on presenting a draft of standards to the Mayor and Council.