Elected Official Questions Town’s Stormwater Waiver

BERLIN — Berlin Councilwoman Lisa Hall questioned this week the transparency of an administrative waiver the town granted to a developer, town officials defended both the waiver and the transparency of the action and added that the waiver will likely be the only one granted.

The topic was first broached earlier this month when the town’s Planning Commission questioned an administrative waiver being granted to Main Street Housing LLC. That waiver allows for Main Street Housing’s development on Tripoli Street to revert to older, less demanding stormwater regulations that were replaced two years ago.

Mayor Gee Williams and Town Administrator Tony Carson both confirmed after the Planning Commission meeting that the waiver was granted by town stormwater engineer Darl Kolar. Williams explained that projects that were already planned out significantly, such as Main Street Housing’s development, prior to the new stormwater regulations going into effect two years ago were eligible for an administrative waiver. The waiver allowed the developer to fall back and meet the lesser regulations that were in place when the project began.

“If projects are substantially completed with their stormwater management or their stormwater engineering plan, then the town may grant an administrative waiver,” Williams said at the time. “But they still have to meet all of the requirements that pre-existed that.”

Hall acknowledged the explanation this week though she added that the whole situation was a bit confusing. Even if the developers are allowed to grandfather in under the old stormwater regulations, Hall questioned whether Kolar should be the one granting a waiver.

“I thought Darl really only had the authority to make recommendations to the Mayor and Council … I just feel like that letter should come from you and not our engineer,” she told the mayor. “That should be approved by the Mayor and Council.”

That authority was granted to Kolar for several reasons, Williams replied.

“One thing is to take the politics out of it,” he said. “We hired Darl to be our stormwater engineer because he knows the difference to tell you the truth. I wouldn’t know the difference if a project meets the requirements or not.”

Still, Hall argued that for the sake of “transparency” it should be the Mayor and Council’s seal on such a waiver. But Carson pointed out that the stormwater administrative waiver is written specifically not to need to bring the council into the mix.

“When it says, ‘the town,’ it’s not the Mayor and Council voting on a waiver, that’s the town’s professional experts doing it,” he said.

Town Attorney Dave Gaskill concurred and told Hall that if the council wished it could change the ordinance, but until that time Kolar had acted in the exact capacity expected of him. Changing the ordinance in regards to stormwater waivers now would be a moot point, Carson explained, because Main Street Housing’s development was the only one qualified to seek a waiver since it had done its stormwater planning under the old regulations.

“This was the grandfathering of the ordinance … so there aren’t any more that could be issued,” he said.

For any future waivers, stormwater or otherwise, Hall did ask that transparency be given further consideration. For example, if a resident learned of a waiver he or she felt was indefensible, an appeal could be sought. But if “somebody does want to appeal it they need to know about it in order to appeal it,” she said.