Commission Approves New Berlin Police Station Plan; Exterior Changes Sought

Commission Approves New Berlin Police Station Plan; Exterior Changes Sought

BERLIN – Plans for the town’s new police station continue to move ahead, as the project received site plan approval from the Berlin Planning Commission this week.

In spite of concerns that the building didn’t look as if it belonged in Berlin and questions regarding the station’s location, the commission voted 6-0, with Ron Cascio abstaining, to approve the plans. A condition of the approval, however, was that the project’s architects return to the commission with design details that would make the building blend better with the town’s existing structures.

“We will take your comments very seriously,” architect Tim Crosby said.

Crosby and engineer John Salm presented plans for a stone-accented 9,000 square foot building to be erected at the intersection of Bay Street and Decatur Street, just off Route 113. Salm said the building would be set back off the road with parking on three sides as well as a fenced storage area in the back. Stormwater management will be addressed through rain gardens and nearly all of the trees existing on the site will remain in place.

“We want to emphasize the care we’ve taken siting the building,” Crosby said, pointing out that the parking lots were not quite parallel with the building. “It allowed us to save trees. The more trees shading the building the lower our energy usage is.”

Planning commission member Barb Stack questioned what she saw as redundancies in the building’s floor plan, which included space for training as well as a gym.

Crosby said the areas weren’t meant to be redundant but rather dual purpose. He said the gym would be able to be used by any town employees. He said the training space was needed to allow the officers to meet certain law enforcement requirements.

“We’ve squeezed out every square foot we can,” he said. “Police departments aren’t cheap.”

Police Chief Arnold Downing pointed out that while the existing police department hadn’t been required to meet certain standards because of its age, the new building would need to.

“We said we are building a new agency and with that we have to be at all the standards,” he said, adding that the station would also be built with expansion in mind.

Commission1Crosby explained that the storage area shown in the floor plan would be adjacent to the station’s holding cells so that if the need arose, it could be converted into an extra cell. The gym too, he said, would be repurposed if the building needed more capacity in the future.

“I appreciate the care you’ve given in siting the building and retaining the existing vegetation,” Cascio said. “I have to take issue with the design. Not the form, the details. To me it doesn’t tell me I’m in Berlin. It could be in Arizona or Oklahoma.”

Cascio said the stone shown on the building would not match any other structures in town. Commission member Pete Cosby suggested incorporating the use of brick into the building.

Crosby said designers would take a look at the project and find some ways to make it fit Berlin better before returning to the planning commission.

Cascio also questioned the station’s location. Though the land was set aside for a new police station when it was purchased several years ago, he said he thought the Tyson property — which is set to be purchased in the coming months — would provide a better site for law enforcement.

“Things have changed,” he said. “I think we have other options.”

Cosby said he thought that was an issue for the town council, not the planning commission.

“I think this is the wrong forum to have that inquiry,” he said. “I think it’s a larger issue.”

Downing said plans for a new police station began long before the town even considered purchasing the Tyson property. He said working out of the existing space in town hall was a liability. He added that the more construction of a new station was delayed, the more it would cost.

“If we wait, the cost of the facility is going to go up…,” he said. “If we continue to delay and talk about property, we don’t even own yet we’re going to be three years out.”

Cosby said he thought the proposed location was ideal for a police station, as it wasn’t directly adjacent to residential homes.

“I think this is a nice little hidden corner with Decatur Street to serve it,” he said.

Cascio said he too had thought the piece of land suitable until he realized the town was about to purchase a larger, more central property.

Commission member Phyllis Purnell said she thought the site near Flower Street ideal.

“I think this is the perfect location for a police station,” she said.

In addition to the commission’s approval of the police station plans, another project approved was the conversion of a home on South Main Street to an accountant’s office. Accountant Jennifer Lynch has purchased a house near Worcester Preparatory School and will be running her business out of it. Commission members supported her plans to install new siding and pave the driveway.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting Planning Director Dave Engelhart advised the commission that a developer was looking to put a Dunkin Donuts in the Food Lion shopping center, in the former location of the county liquor store. He said the project would not need site plan approval since the building was already up but asked if the commission wanted to be consulted regarding the addition of a drive through window. Commission members advised him to use his own judgment as he looked over the plans.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.