Council Weighs Taller Homes, B&B Changes

BERLIN — The Berlin Mayor and Council last week showed some support for modifying the town’s building code, including expanding the services bed and breakfasts can provide and allowing for taller homes to be built.

First, the council discussed opening up the scope of services for bed and breakfasts. Currently, the only services an establishment can offer is sleeping accommodations and a morning meal. However, attorney Mark Cropper, on behalf of the Waystead Inn on Harrison Avenue, put forth a petition this month to allow any bed and breakfast on a larger than one-acre lot to have the option of going to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to request permission for special events.

“Essentially, it grants the Board of Appeals flexibility in their review of conditional appeals,” said Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward.

Some of the events Cropper has mentioned might be fitting for a bed and breakfast include things like wine tastings, birthday parties and weddings.

Ward stressed that, even if the petition passed, any request for a special event would have to go to the BZA on an individual basis and all regular town requirements would need to be met. The idea received unanimous support from the council.

“It just makes sense,” said Mayor Gee Williams.

The BZA is more than equipped and experienced enough to decide what events should be acceptable, he added.

“I think it’s a great idea because [the code] is very restrictive the way it is now,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch.

There will be a public hearing on the petition on April 9.

The second issue discussed was whether there should be a clause in the town code allowing developers looking to break Berlin’s 30-foot residential height limit to go before the BZA to ask for special permission to build up to but not over 35 feet. Unlike the bed and breakfast petition, which received a favorable recommendation from the Planning Commission, the group was deadlocked when it came to the housing height limitation.

“The [Planning] Commission was very much unable to move ahead with any recommendation,” said Ward.

Ward added that a big consideration for the commissioners was the upcoming revision of the town’s comprehensive plan, as well as the potential drafting of new architectural guidelines.

“They didn’t want to preempt the process,” said Ward.

But like the bed and breakfast application, approval of the height limitation exception, which was submitted by developer Bob Purcell, would still only grant applicants the ability to take their case to the BZA for each specific instance. To be allowed to build over the current 30-foot cap, a petitioner would have to prove that other adjacent or nearby buildings have also been built above the limit, something Purcell claims is relatively common in Berlin.

The council didn’t seem to view granting the application as a major concession on the part of the town.

“At the end of the day we’re talking about 5 feet,” said Williams.

Lynch agreed and asserted that, if the application had to wait until after revisions to the code are finished and guidelines adopted, it could be on hold for a long time.

“The wheels of government don’t move too fast,” she said.

Before the petition could move forward, though, town attorney Dave Gaskill mentioned that he had some legal issues with the language. In the application, an over 30-foot house can only be built if next to or in “the immediate proximity” of another over 30-foot house. Gaskill felt that “immediate proximity” was too loose of a term. The council agreed and asked Gaskill and Ward to get together and come up with something more concrete. The petition will be re-introduced at the April 9 meeting.