Berlin Planning Comm. Supports Rezoning Parcels

BERLIN – Members of the town’s planning commission voted in support of rezoning parcels on Decatur Street and Gay Street last week.

On Wednesday, the planning commission voted to give favorable recommendations to proposals to rezone what has been known as 109 Decatur Street and four properties on Gay Street. The Decatur Street property is set to be changed from business (B-2) to residential (R-1) so it can accommodate the town’s new police station. The Gay Street properties are set to be adjusted from residential (R-2) to commercial (B-1). That change will allow property owner Patrick Vorsteg to erect a mixed-use building, with retail on the ground floor and apartments above, on the lot at 15 Gay St.

“I think there’s a greater possibility than just constructing a house there,” Vorsteg said. “We definitely have the space for it.”

Vorsteg has spent the better part of the past year developing plans for the property. He approached the owners of properties between his and the edge of the town’s commercial district to see if they’d be interested in rezoning to B-1 as well. That, Planning Director Dave Engelhart said, would extend the town’s commercial district further down Gay Street and would prevent Vorsteg’s property from being a single commercial lot surrounded by residential lots. Property owners at 13, 19 and 21 Gay St. agreed with Vorsteg’s plan and submitted their parcels for rezoning alongside his.

“They all have houses on them and they can continue to use them as they are,” Vorsteg said, explaining that the rezoning would simply make it easier for the properties to be redeveloped as commercial space in the future.

Commission member Pete Cosby said it would be better if all of the properties were redeveloped at once.

“Boy it’d be nice to do a streetscape here,” he said.

Other commission members pointed out that things didn’t usually work out that smoothly. Several praised Vorsteg’s plans for his property.

“I think it’s a great idea,” commission member Ron Cascio said. “It’s how Berlin needs to grow instead of annexation.”

Cascio told Vorsteg he thought his building plans could be improved even further by narrowing the driveway from two lanes to one. Vorsteg agreed and said he’d take that into consideration when it came time to submit a site plan.

Cascio made a motion to pass Vorsteg’s rezoning request on to the Berlin Town Council with a favorable recommendation as long as the included properties were brought into the town’s historic district as they were rezoned.

Commission Chairman Chris Denny asked if the owners of the properties were aware of that possibility.

“That’s a big deal,” he said.

Though the commission considered tabling the motion until the property owners — none of whom but Vorstag were present — could discuss it, in the end they decided to pass it on to the council. When the council considers the rezoning request, a public hearing will be held.

“They can show up to the meeting if they want to,” commission member John Barrett said.

Engelhart agreed to notify the three property owners who weren’t present of the proposal in the meantime.

Following the favorable rezoning recommendations Wednesday, the commission discussed plans by a local church to purchase the former Merial Select industrial property. Engelhart said he would be meeting with church officials to discuss possibilities for the land, which would need to be rezoned to residential or allowed a text amendment to accommodate a church.

Engelhart said church officials were expected to approach the commission once a course of action was decided on.