BERLIN – While the state and the Berlin Historic District Commission are powerless to enforce their rules it is possible that a lawsuit by a resident or interested party could force the owners of the Atlantic Hotel to replace the recently-installed vinyl windows with windows that meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
Last month the commission heard a request from the owners of the Atlantic Hotel asking for special dispensation after they’d replaced the wooden windows with vinyl windows without seeking a permit.
Corey Kegerise, administrator of local preservation programs for the Maryland Historical Trust, said that while there are cases where vinyl windows may be permitted under the Standards, they are restricted to additions and new construction and would not be a replacement option for the historic hotel.
Given that the Historic District Commission was aware of this they felt they had no choice but to rule against the hotel, a ruling that would have required the removal of the vinyl windows and their replacement with wooden ones.
After it was brought to the attention of the non-profit Preservation Maryland that Mayor Gee Williams ordered the hotel exempt from the town Historic District Commission’s ruling, Eastern Shore field director Elizabeth Beckley sent him a letter requesting a reversal.
The letter, which Beckley copied to state officials, bureaucrats and other non-profit organization heads and was widely circulated beyond the addressees, argues that the property’s owners knew permits were required and chose not to pursue them.
In his response letter Williams suggested that this one-time exception would spark “thoughtful consideration to the drafting of regulations that preserve our historic district while also adapting to changing opportunities that are needed to be good stewards of both our natural and physical environment.”
Williams has claimed that he believed the oversight to be an honest mistake by the hotel’s owners.
While it remains to be seen what action if any might be taken against Williams by the state for the exception, Beckley said she hoped resident outrage over the exception would be enough to convince Williams to change his mind.
“I’m not at liberty to say what my next step will be,” she said. Adding that what she felt was most prominently at issue was Williams’ decision to neglect his executive duties.
She said it was about trust and whether the town residents believe the administration values the process or not.
Kegerise said that the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation requires that applicants replace the windows in texture, color, design and, where possible, materials. Adding that his department had no authority to enforce the guidelines.
“It doesn’t mean that there aren’t other state laws that remain,” he said.
Speaking on vinyl windows more broadly, Kegerise said it was a mistake to believe that they ought to be allowed or disallowed generally. “Every building, particularly an old building, is unique so the standards are not hard and fast,” he said. “That’s what the review and appeal processes are for.”
They are processes the hotel ownership still have at their disposal should Williams be compelled to uphold the law.