Berlin Might Seek Consultant For Architectural Guidelines

BERLIN — Looking to implement some kind of architectural guidelines for future developers in Berlin, the Mayor and Council agreed Monday to consider bringing in professional help to draft the codes. But first the Planning Commission and Historic District Commission (HDC) are being asked to decide exactly what a consultant should focus on.

“We can’t have it open ended,” said Town Administrator Tony Carson. “We need to tell them what we want.”

Carson suggested that the commissions develop a “scope of services” as a tool for a professional consultant to follow.

The recent push for clear architectural standards for Berlin has been spearheaded by Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward, who has been working with both the Planning Commission and the HDC for weeks on generating a proposal for the council.

“Any guidelines are helpful,” said Ward Monday.

Ward noted that for years Berlin has operated without clear guidelines for architectural design. While some have worried that adopting architectural standards might discourage development by forcing contractors to stick to strict criteria, Ward argued that they would actually be welcomed by builders.

“It’s not as restrictive a document for builders as it is a guideline for the builder,” he said.

Planning Commission Chair Newt Chandler agreed that guidelines could greatly benefit Berlin.

“The Planning Commission has long struggled for architectural standards or guidelines for commercial as well as residential development,” he told the council.

Chandler explained that the commission was trying “to preserve the character of neighborhoods” in Berlin and that implementing guidelines would give developers a reason to design their buildings in keeping with the theme of individual neighborhoods.

HDC Chair Carol Rose agreed. However, while Chandler felt that suggestive “guidelines” would be enough, Rose advised the council to instead endorse more stringent “standards.”

“I think they should be mandatory,” she said.

Chandler chose the carrot instead of the stick approach and suggested that developers who follow the town’s architectural guidelines be rewarded with something like a tax incentive. He warned that setting mandatory standards could scare off potential builders.

“To get too dictatorial about doing that might run some commercial developers out of town that you may want in,” he said. “The pendulum can swing too far.”

According to Councilwoman Lisa Hall, the town also needs to concentrate on educating developers about what Berlin is looking for in architecture. Like Chandler, she felt that preservation of character is a top priority.

“We have a responsibility to protect this town and keep it Victorian,” Hall said.

Mayor Gee Williams told the group that whatever guidelines are eventually adopted had to be “practical.” He admitted to personally wanting to avoid mandatory standards.

“I tend to lean more towards the [tax] incentives,” said Williams.

“If you make it too tough [developers] won’t consider building at all,” added Councilman Troy Purnell.

Councilwoman Paula Lynch was also onboard with developing some kind of guidelines or standards, but pointed out that there was a long process ahead.

“It seems to me the first thing we have to do is define the neighborhoods,” she said.
Hall agreed.
“What are we looking for here?” she asked.

At the council’s suggestion, both Chandler and Rose will return to their commissions and attempt to brainstorm the “scope of services” the town is looking for from a professional architectural consultant. They will come back before the council in May.

Also discussed at the meeting were future revisions to Berlin’s comprehensive zoning. The Planning Commission has been tasked to generate recommendations this spring about how the town might want to tweak its current commercial, residential and other zoning codes. Because everything is in the earliest stage right now, the council only asked that Chandler and the rest of his commission pay close attention to input from residents in town.

Chandler told the council that the Planning Commission would definitely take into account what people in Berlin are saying about current zoning and how it might be updated while also underlining the experience the commission itself has in dealing with comprehensive zoning.

“There are several public hearings [scheduled],” promised Ward.