Berlin BZA Tables Meadery Request

Berlin BZA Tables Meadery Request
A rendering of a new building proposed for Jefferson Street in Berlin. Submitted image.

BERLIN – The town’s board of appeals delayed a decision on a variance request related to a building proposed for Jefferson Street this week.

The Berlin Board of Appeals on Wednesday agreed to table consideration of a request from the connections of The Buzz Meadery. Board members said they wanted more information before considering a request for a setback variance that would be associated with a new building on the meadery’s Jefferson Street property.

“There’s just a lot of detail that I don’t see here that makes it hard to decide,” board member Woody Bunting said.

In 2021, The Buzz Meadery opened the Berlin Commons on Jefferson Street, in the vacant lot once owned by Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County. They turned the vacant lot into a fenced-in community green space and encouraged the public to take advantage of it. Throughout the year, they sold mead from The Buzz Meadery van and hosted special events like Merry Marketplace.

In an effort to establish something more permanent on the site, they’re now moving forward with plans to construct a three-story building on the part of the property adjacent to Jeffery Auxer Designs.

The Buzz Meadery’s Brett Hines and architect Erich Pfeffer approached the board this week to ask for a variance to setback requirements on the Gay and Jefferson Street sides of the property. They showed the board a concept plan for a mixed-use building—featuring a taphouse as well as residential space—that went right up to the sidewalk on Gay and Jefferson streets.

“The lot area without the setbacks is only 3,783 square feet,” Pfeffer said. “The buildable lot area with 10-foot setbacks on both Gay and Jefferson is reduced to less than half of that which is about 1,536 square feet which really makes it impossible to build a structure worth building there that can have any economic viability.”

Joe Moore, chairman of the board, asked if Hines had met with the Berlin Planning Commission yet. Hines said he had not because he was waiting to see if the building would be granted the zero-foot setbacks.

“In order to get our plans to that level of detail we need to know where the footprint of the building is going to be,” he said. “It’s very expensive to develop these plans.”

Bunting said he wasn’t aware by looking at the meadery’s application that Hines was seeking a zero-foot setback. He pointed out that when Habitat for Humanity had planned a structure for the site, that project had been granted a five-foot setback. Bunting said that even though issues like parking were meant to be considered by the planning commission not the board of appeals, he felt the applicants should be considering those aspects of the plan now. He suggested Hines have a discussion with the commission.

“See what they would want for the site plan,” he said. “What they’d agree to. You are proposing an awful lot here.”

Moore offered similar comments.

“What you’re saying is you want this zero setback so you can then determine what you’re going to do with the site,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s the right way to do it.”

Moore added that the plans submitted to the board hadn’t made it clear that zero-foot setbacks were being requested.

“I’m trying not to prejudge this but zero setbacks are frequent throughout the town but those are on buildings that were built prior to zoning,” he said.

He suggested Hines return with more detail and with the board’s purview in mind.

“You’ve got to show us denial of the variance is depriving you of a significant use of the property that you would otherwise have the right to,” Moore said.

The board voted 3-0 to table the variance request.

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.