Berlin Asked To Increase Home Height Limits

BERLIN — There could be a series of changes to the rules of building in Berlin in the near future, including altered height limitation and new architectural guidelines.

The Berlin Planning Commission participated in a discussion last Wednesday with Bob Purcell, a contractor and representative of Beachwood Homes. Purcell made the suggestion that the 30-foot height limit on houses built in R-1 and R-2 residential districts should be expanded to at least 35 feet or possibly 40 feet.

According to Purcell, there are a number of houses in town that already break the current limit.
“It was really easy to find houses over 30 feet in Berlin,” he said.

Unaware of the regulation until recently himself, Purcell confessed that he had likely broken the rule with some of his previous projects without even realizing it. But now that he does know about the limit, Purcell wants to change it.

“People are willing to build taller houses,” he said.

Originally set in 1966, the 30-foot cutoff is most likely outdated, argued Purcell. While he wasn’t sure why the limit was originally set, Purcell guessed that it may have had something to do with fire companies at the time lacking the equipment necessary to access taller buildings. Even if it was just an aesthetic choice to keep homes from towering too high, it was Purcell’s opinion that changes in architecture over recent years has made the 30-foot ceiling obsolete in Berlin. He pointed out that customers are looking for larger homes and to meet the limit, a three-story house has to have a nearly flat roof instead of the more popular steeple.

The Planning Commission was receptive to Purcell’s arguments but noted some potential pitfalls.

“If you did 40-foot houses in existing neighborhoods, it could look a little strange,” said Commissioner Newt Chandler.

Commissioner Ron Cascio agreed, saying, “I think 40 feet is extreme. I think 35 feet is more reasonable.”

However, Cascio added that he wasn’t agreeing to anything and would have to see hard numbers and data before making a decision. Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward felt the same.

“There needs to be supportive data given to me,” he told Purcell.

Ward suggested that Purcell make a formal presentation to the commission after sampling neighborhoods in the area.

“I need numbers,” said Ward.

Purcell was favorable to the idea, but asked if there was an expedient way to change the ceiling for one of his specific projects.

Because the case would not likely qualify for a Board of Zoning Appeals review, Ward told Purcell that his best bet would probably be to gather data for a formal presentation as soon as possible to get the ball rolling.

“We need to do some research,” said Chandler.

After Purcell’s presentation, Ward updated the commission on the progress of his initiative to develop strong architectural standards for Berlin.

“To create standards is a very important first step,” he said.

Ward met with the Historic District Commission (HDC) earlier in the night last Wednesday to gauge what it will be looking for in possible standards. With the commission’s help, he drafted a letter for the Mayor and Council and asked the Planning Commission to provide input as well.
However, while Ward was confident that he could address any questions regarding zoning, he suggested bringing in design firms to help the commission develop architectural guidelines relevant not only to Berlin’s Historic District, but the entire town.

“You want it to flow,” said Ward.

The commission agreed that an expert should be brought in, and sent a letter to the Mayor and Council requesting permission to advertise for interested firms.