Berlin Residents Take Concerns Over New B&B To Council

BERLIN – Changes at a bed and breakfast on Harrison Avenue continue to concern neighbors.

Berlin resident Joe Hill approached the town council this week to express frustration related to The Inn Berlin, a bed and breakfast on Harrison Avenue recently granted permission to host outdoor special events. Hill is worried about the town permitting commercial uses in residential neighborhoods.

“I am concerned about future decisions being made similar to this,” he said.

Last month, the Berlin Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) approved a special exception allowing The Inn Berlin, formerly the Waystead Inn, to hold outdoor tented events. Property owners Pino and Karen Tomasello, who formerly operated Fresco’s and Sello’s restaurants, told the board they’d bought the property last year and their son and daughter-in-law would run the bed and breakfast. Though a 2013 conditional use allowed up to 30 people to dine at the inn, the Tomasellos asked for and received permission from the BZA last month to also host outdoor special events.

Hill told elected officials Monday businesses downtown would suffer if Berlin started allowing commercial uses in the residential district. He said his request was to have the town’s planning commission and BZA members review the purpose of zoning regulations and reexamine the concept of conditional uses. He believes conditional uses were meant for things like home offices.

“I don’t think a full-blown business in a residential neighborhood was ever the intent of that,” he said. “I think that’s what’s got us where we are. I think it’s time for a review and reset.”

Mayor Zack Tyndall acknowledged  he’d heard from some residents who weren’t happy with BZA decision related to The Inn Berlin. As a result, he said the town would be working on enhancing its notification procedures so that when potential changes were being considered neighbors would know and could voice objections. Currently, he said the town was following the notification procedures mandated in its code. Tyndall added the planning commission and BZA could take a look at zoning regulations and review conditional uses going forward.

Councilman Jay Knerr asked if there would be recourse for neighbors if there were noise problems at the inn. Police Chief Arnold Downing said he could issue citations and notify the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners, which provided the business with its license to serve alcohol.

Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director, said that if the conditions the inn agreed to in granting special exception weren’t adhered to the permission could be withdrawn.

Hill maintained that the zoning code was meant to protect property owners.

“Following the zoning as written would eliminate any of these situations coming up,” he said. “You’re always going to have a bad neighbor. But a bad neighbor with a lot to lose like a business is a very nasty neighbor.”

Resident Debi Cook said she was also upset by the board of zoning appeals decision.

“I’m having a really hard time understanding how a full-service restaurant got approved in a residential neighborhood and I’m terrified that that could happen in my neighborhood,” she said. “There are several big houses near me. How can you say yes to one and not to the other?”

She said some residents didn’t know the BZA would be considering changes at the inn and as a result hadn’t been able to weigh in.

“It’s too late for these people,” Cook said.

Tyndall said the town would do better with notifications in the future.

“We want to do that moving forward but in reference to the decision that was made by the BZA unfortunately this body does not have the ability to alter their decision,” he said.

Tyndall said if the BZA and planning commission found any changes were needed in reference to town zoning practices they could make a recommendation to the council.

“I’m certain that if there is something that we can do better that this body would probably want to do that,” he said.

He added that the town already advertised as required by law and posted information regarding all of its meetings on its website and Facebook page.

“We can only put it so many places,” he said.

Cook said that during the BZA meeting, a restaurant, which she pointed out was advertised on the inn’s website, wasn’t mentioned.

Engelhart said that was because the restaurant was permitted through a 2013 approval that ran with the property when it was sold to Tomasello.

“He came and investigated all that before he closed on the property,” he said. “It’s not a restaurant. It’s a conditional use for that bed and breakfast. If he didn’t have that bed and breakfast, he couldn’t be serving 30 people there.”

Hill said the conditional use should have expired because the property’s prior owner had let it lapse.

“There is an appeal process,” Tyndall said. “The code does say that has to be done at the circuit court level.”

Hill said he was aware of that but that an appeal would address the BZA process, not the issue of a past conditional use that had been violated. He added that the price tag for an appeal was $10,000.

A Go Fund Me page titled “Help Save Joe Hill’s Berlin Md. Neighborhood” has currently raised $2,835. Meanwhile, Hive, the eatery at The Inn Berlin, has its first pop-up dining event scheduled for June 11.

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.