Public Hearing Set For Berlin Design Review Concept

BERLIN – An ordinance introduced this week is expected to give the Berlin Planning Commission more control over future commercial development.

The ordinance would add “architectural design review” to the section of the town code concerning site design and would outline the planning commission’s role in making sure proposed commercial development complemented the town’s historic architecture.

“We’ve felt the need for quite some time to address the issue,” Ron Cascio, a member of the town’s planning commission, said.

The planning commission has spent much of the past year talking about the need for commercial architectural design standards. While the actual standards have yet to be created, the ordinance introduced Monday is the first step in the process. It states that the commission will “review and approve all proposed commercial development to ensure it complements and enhances the town’s historic architectural character and uniqueness.”

Cascio said the ordinance would serve as a stopgap until the standards themselves were complete.

“This gives us the authority to regulate aesthetics even though we don’t have a document that outlines those guidelines yet,” he said.

Cascio said planning commission members had discussed approaching the town for funding to have the architectural standards professionally done. Commission members looked at Worcester County’s standards this fall but decided they didn’t fit Berlin, Cascio said.

Dave Engelhart, Berlin’s planning director, said the standards would help the commission when dealing with franchise architecture. The commission currently has oversight when it comes to things like infrastructure and stormwater management. The commission does not have the power to dictate how a building should look. While commission members always share their concerns and desires with developers regarding a project’s appearance, they haven’t had the guidelines and standards to enforce their position. Engelhart said there was nothing in the code that prohibited a developer from building whatever he or she wanted.

“You could build a purple glass tower,” he said. “Of course that doesn’t go with the character of the town.”

A public hearing on the ordinance will be held at the town council meeting scheduled for Jan. 12.