BERLIN – Plans for a spa in a historic Berlin home are expected to move forward following a board of appeals hearing this week.
On Wednesday the Berlin Board of Zoning Appeals voted 2-1 to grant 509 S. Main St. a special exception for a conditional business use in the residential district. Though there was concern that an unanimous vote was needed for the special exception, which will allow the property to be turned into a spa, town staff confirmed Thursday the 2-1 vote constituted an approval.
South Point residents Cynthia and Anthony Betterson told the board they wanted to buy the house at 509 S. Main St., known as Waverly, and turn it into “The Lavender Spa at Waverly.” The house, which was built in 1842 and is currently owned by Ernest Gerardi, has been vacant for years.
“Our vision for the space, because it’s a historic home, is to renovate it and capture the historic nature of it,” Cynthia Betterson said.
Betterson, a research and development manager for Perdue, said she’d been to several spas throughout the country that were located in stately historic homes. Driving by Waverly one day, she’d commented on the home’s beauty. The idea of purchasing it to turn it into a spa was something she researched for months. She said the property, which was slightly less than four acres, would be expensive to maintain and that cost would be covered by the business.
“I think a commercial business would be able to generate revenue and make that property look like it should look,” she said.
She said that as an Aveda spa, Waverly would offer manicures, pedicures and the like. The business, which she wanted to open by February of 2019, would operate by appointment from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Though it will open with nine employees, Betterson said that number could grow to as many as 20.
Betterson stressed that the home would continue to look like a residence. She said the required handicap ramp would be located in the back of the building and the parking area would be screened with landscaping.
A handful of residents attended Wednesday’s hearing to share their concerns about the proposed spa. Main Street resident Jan Poli said the Bettersons were “wonderful people” but that she was worried about the impact the project would have on Main Street.
“We have a lot of traffic on Main Street,” she said.
Poli also asked what would happen if the Bettersons were given approval for the commercial use and eventually sold the property.
“This is a conditional use,” board member Woody Bunting said. “Someone else would have to come before the board again.”
Main Street resident Paula Lynch asked how the property could be considered for a special exception for a commercial use when it had homes on both sides. Town staff explained that the large parcel abutted two other properties that were commercial.
Lynch said she was nevertheless opposed to the property being used commercially.
“I think this idea is misplaced,” she said.
Chuck Cox, who lives next door to Waverly, said he supported the spa concept.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” he said. “The extent these folks have gone to, they’ve put a lot of time into it.”
He added that a restaurant and large school were already in the area.
Board member Jay Knerr praised the Bettersons’ proposal but said they hadn’t proved there was a hardship that would require the conditional business use.
“I like your concept,” Knerr said. “It’s rock solid. The problem I have is with you meeting the hardship criteria. I don’t think it’s there yet.”
Bunting said the project’s conditional use request was justified because there were other nonconforming uses in the area.
“I don’t see how it’s a negative impact when you compare it to the uses around it,” he said.
Board member Doug Parks made a motion to approve the request.
“I think they have an excellent plan and the board should approve it,” he said.
The vote came in at 2-1, with Bunting and Parks in support and Knerr opposed. Joe Moore, chairman of the board, recused himself prior to the hearing because he represents Gerardi in other business matters.