By Greg Ellison
(July 15, 2021) Berlin’s Historic District Commission approved requests for replacement windows, new signs and demolition plans for a trio of properties during its meeting last Wednesday.
Historic District Commission members voted unanimously in favor of demolition plans for a home at 19 Gay Street proposed by Jonathan Selway, managing member with R&S Investments.
Selway’s firm is in the midst of purchasing the parcel to build a mixed-use structure with residential units above commercial space.
“The value is in the lot in the zoning,” he said. “If we can’t redevelop the property, it just doesn’t make sense from an investment standpoint.”
Planning Director Dave Engelhart said the parcel is among four properties on Gay Street rezoned as B-1 town center district three years ago.
“When we rezoned those four parcels, the [Berlin] Planning Commission said it would be a good idea,” he said.
Commission member Norman Bunting asked Engelhart to outline the approval process to raze the existing single-family home.
Outside of sign-off from the Historic District Commission, Engelhart said a demolition permit from the town would be required, with additional approvals needed for new construction.
“Is it a structure of historical importance? That’s usually your purview,” he said. “If he purchased it, he has the right to take it down.”
Commission chair Carol Rose said land records indicate the earliest structure built at the site dates to roughly 1920.
“There’s certainly no historical value to the home,” she said.
Selway, a licensed architect, conducted multiple inspections of the existing home.
“It’s in really bad shape,” he said. “Nothing’s level and the sub-floor is spongy all over the place.”
Commission member Robert Poli concurred, saying, “The best thing would be to tear it down and put something better there. That’s going to improve the whole street.”
Engelhart said the proposed changes for 19 Gay Street are another step to develop the Main Street adjacent corridor to expand commercial viability.
“It’s an extension of downtown,” he said.
In addition to entrance signs for Berlin Commons, a triangle-shaped parcel between Gay and Jefferson streets, the Historic District Commission also approved pergola-covering material for the public green space.
On May 5, the commission granted initial approval for Buzz Meadery owners Brett and Megan Hines to establish a community space for special events and outdoor dining at 21 Jefferson Street.
Megan Hines returned last week with a wooden sign prototype, measuring two-by-two feet, intended to be pole-mounted 10-feet off the ground with illumination from low-wattage solar lighting.
“There’s two gates, so one on either side,” she said.
Hines said once the location is further developed, a third sign would be added.
Berlin residents since 2015, the Hines launched the Buzz Meadery last June and produce a “honey wine” averaging 6-8 percent of alcohol.
Rose said the commission was provided a sneak preview of the sign design during its earlier approval in May.
“We all liked it last time she was here,” she said.
Poli applauded the Hines for the work completed thus far to upgrade the location for wider-community usage.
“What they did to that piece of property is amazing compared to what was there before,” he said.
Main Street windows
The commission also agreed to give retroactive approval to new front widows for commercial property at 10 South Main Street
Mike Poole, with PF Investments, requested approval for recently replaced single-pane windows at the location.
Rose asked Poole why window replacements were completed without appropriate permitting.
“You were not aware you were in a historic district?” she said.
Rose said regardless of historic district designations, the widow work requires permits.
Poole, who pleaded ignorance to the historic district commission’s oversight, said his intent was to replicate exterior details at the adjacent Berlin Welcome Center at 14 South Main Street.
Poole said extensive interior and exterior repairs had been performed since his purchase of the property over a year ago.
“I spent a lot of money fixing that place up,” he said.
While making amends for previous oversights, Poole also highlighted plans to further replicate the Welcome Center appearance by painting the façade of his location white.
“The face of my building and the Welcome Center … were built about the same time,” he said. “I thought it would make it a cleaner appearance.”
Rose said although the commission does not approve color selections the proposal sounded ideal.