New rules give Berlin businesses expansion room
BERLIN — As economists look for signs that the economy is well on the road to recovery they would do well to look at the Town of Berlin, which will be adding businesses and expanding businesses in fast succession over the next two months.
The Mayor and Council cleared another hurdle for expanding business when it approved this week a measure giving the Zoning Board of Appeals (BZA) the discretion to allow bed and breakfasts to increase their potential market share.
The move came in response to the BZA’s appeal to the Council for guidance in the wake of a rules that prevent the Waystead Inn, a bed and breakfast on Harrison Street and Main Streets, from serving lunch and dinner to their paying guests.
“You have 12 provisions in your code that lists what you can and cannot do,” said Mark Cropper, the attorney representing the Waystead Inn. In his testimony Cropper pointed out that the way the code is written, exceptions that aren’t allowed are prohibited.
Although the BZA was amenable to making an exception that would allow the Waystead Inn to extend its service to the guests, the rules prohibit it. In order to address that shortcoming without giving every house in Berlin carte blanche to begin serving food, the Council passed a measure that allows bed and breakfasts that also occupy “no less than an acre” to serve lunch and dinner.
Mark Kauffman, who, with his wife Dr. Lucy Vanvoorhees, owns the Waystead Inn said that the bed and breakfast will remain exclusive.
“We don’t want to be a restaurant,” he said. “We don’t have the room for it.”
Instead Kauffman hopes to extend the packages the Waystead Inn currently offers so that they can include lunch and dinner for those checked in to the bed and breakfast. He held out the possibility that the chef, Eric Swick, might hold the occasional cooking class as well.
He said that he was happy that the Council removed the barrier but said he well understood that he had to make his case to the BZA, who will hear the request now that it is possible for them to render a decision on it.
In addition to approving a rule that could eventually help the Waystead Inn, the Council also signed off on a letter of support for the two new restaurants scheduled to open this summer. Ernest Gerardi, who owns what will be a “Tex-Mex” restaurant in the former boardinghouse on North Main Street and an Italian restaurant in the former hardware store will go before the Board of License Commissioners to apply for permission to serve alcohol in those restaurants.
Councilman Elroy Brittingham raised concerns about the Tex-Mex restaurant’s hours because it is next door to a church. Cropper, who was at the meeting representing Gerardi, said that while he didn’t know the hours the restaurant would be opened, he expected that the management would take care to be good neighbors.
In response to questioning Cropper also said he did not know whether alcohol will be allowed on the property, which includes a deck and a patio, on only in the restaurant proper.
In recent weeks, in addition to supporting Gerardi’s application, the Council has also provided support to a proposed wine tasting store and Baked Dessert Cafe and Gallery’s request to be able to offer wine for sale.
Director of Community and Economic Development Michael Day reported that both were recently approved and have begin preparations to open. The Baked Dessert Cafe and Gallery, he said expects to open as near to May 1 as possible.
Reached later, Deborah Everett, owner of the Maryland Wine Tasting Bar said renovations have begun to the shop, which was most recently the Berlin Chamber of Commerce officer, and that her shop is scheduled to open at the beginning of Maryland Wine Week, June 8.
The bar will be the first in the state to offer Maryland Wines exclusively but the one-ounce tasting, by the flight — three two-ounce tastings — or by the bottle to take home.
“I don’t know even if any state has its own tasting room,” Everett said.
Although some raised concerns about the number of new places opening, Mayor Gee Williams pointed out that the Town’s reputation as a reliable place for a night out almost demanded additional restaurants and other diversions.
“I think that when you have multiple very good places to go to they will very much complement rather than compete with the other restaurants in the Downtown area,” Williams said. “I think four years ago it might have been too soon.”