Berlin Council To Decide Height Issue

BERLIN — After deadlocking the Berlin Planning Commission, a developer hoping to loosen the town’s height limit restrictions for houses will be taking his case directly to the Mayor and Council.

Last month, developer Bob Purcell approached the commission looking for support in his bid to have Berlin’s residential height limit expanded beyond the current 30-foot cap. He was told to put a specific text amendment together and returned this week with a compromise.

Instead of asking that the commission endorse raising the limit, he requested that developers be given the option to approach the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) for case-by-case permission to break the ceiling, as long as they didn’t exceed 35 feet and could prove that there were homes in the neighborhood that already topped 30 feet, something Purcell claimed was not uncommon in Berlin.

It should be noted that, while the option already exists for developers to ask the BZA to waive the 30-foot limit, it can only be done if the applicant can prove a “hardship” is being inflicted on them if they’re required to stick to the code.

Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward cautioned the commission to consider the decision carefully, since it would impact roughly 70 percent of Berlin.

“It affects a large part of town,” he said.

Purcell admitted that, even if the motion was eventually approved, he only considered it a “temporary bridge” until the residential height limit could be officially raised.

While some commissioners were open to seeing over 30-foot houses in Berlin, Purcell’s motion had trouble stirring support.

“It’s hard to tailor the code to each individual applicant that comes in here,” said Commission Chair Newt Chandler.

Commissioner Barb Stack admitted that she felt larger houses would “add variety to the streetscape” but also appeared to be lukewarm about the application, neither supporting it nor condemning it.

Commissioner Ron Cascio made a motion to deny the application but received no second. Conversely, Commissioner Chris Denny made a motion to approve the application but also received no second.

Effectively at a stalemate, the commission told Purcell his next step would be to take the proposal directly to the Berlin Mayor and Council.

The commission would not attach a review to the proposal, but would leave it at, “unable to reach consensus.”