By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Aug. 16, 2018) Garrett Neeb and Reggie Mariner of Bay Four LLC were not warmly greeted by members of the Berlin Historic District Commission and its audience last Wednesday, and were denied approval for a freestanding porch at their property on 201 William Street.
Mariner said the structure, described as a “rolling porch” in submitted designs, could accommodate music and other events held essentially in the backyard. The house faces Artisan’s Green, the new location of the Berlin Farmer’s Market and for two years home to summertime “Third Thursday” concerts hosted by the town.
However, residents and commission members complained the house was in disrepair and said they had little faith in the property owner.
As of last Friday, several of the home’s windows and doors were boarded up and “NO TRESPASSING” signs were hung on makeshift fences on two sides of the property.
Commission member Mary Moore said she didn’t consider the proposed structure a porch because it was not attached to the house. At one point she compared it to Stonehenge.
“We can’t call it a porch, because a porch, to me, means attached to a home,” she said.
Moore said her concern was the house itself did not appear to be safe.
“Little kids are curious people. I mean, just picture them going under the house, looking in there, crawling in a hole … all those things are sort of going through my mind,” she said.
Chairwoman Carol Rose said the two-and-a-half story home was built in 1870 and once had a back porch that was later moved to the front yard.
“That porch has since fallen off and, I guess, been taken away somewhere. The front door of that house, it doesn’t even lock. It was open when we went over there to look at it,” Rose said.
Asked if he planned to repair the home, Mariner said he presently did not.
“Nobody likes old houses more than I do,” he said. “But, at the same time, I don’t have the money.”
However, Mariner suggested the porch would in some way improve the appearance.
“A coat of paint would make a difference,” Rose said.
Neighbors said they were also unhappy with how the home looked and many worried about its safety. Several said they repeatedly chased small children off the property and from playing inside the home.
One woman said neighbors had, over the years, called the police because of drug use and homeless people sleeping inside.
Judy Fisher, who lives next door, said she is concerned by “Mr. Mariner in general and the way he does things.”
“It just breaks my heart to look at [the house] and, I tell you what, it should embarrass the town,” she said. “I have chased children out of that house for 100 years … it’s not safe.”
Tracy Albrecht said many homeowners in Berlin took pride in rehabilitating their older homes, which has led to “thousands to come visit, stop and eat and shop, and enjoy” Berlin.
“It’s just the homeowners themselves that make this town adorable,” she said. “It is our money, our blood and our sweat and tears. Our homes are a testament to this town.”
She said the Mariner property, once one of the “oldest and grandest homes” on William Street, is now in “a deplorable state of neglect.”
Town Administrator Laura Allen and Economic Development Director Ivy Wells spoke on behalf of Mariner and Neeb, saying a fruitful partnership had been struck to allow the farmer’s market and other events to occur on the property behind the home.
“I do believe that this is an opportunity to see some first steps in terms of improvement on this property,” Allen said. “I would ask you to take that into consideration. Maybe it’s not the grand scheme that everybody would like to see, but it’s one small step and this town has made significant changes through a series of one small steps.”
Rose argued that, if approved, the porch would inspire more events with loud music and drinking, “which we have too daggone much as it is, and these people do not need to have this in their backyard … this is wrong!”
Wells said listening to what had occurred during the meeting made her ill.
“To me, [the hearing] has been a personal attack on the Mariner family,” she said.
Wells said she also didn’t like to look at the house, but there had been some progress in cleaning up the property.
“I’ve finally gotten them to be able to have a public-private partnership with that property back there and this is baby steps,” she said.
“From my understanding, the reason that we’re here today is to see whether or not this porch fits into the historic nature of the town – it’s not to beat up the Mariner family for what they did or didn’t do, or for trying to put them on trial for the way that the house should look,” Wells continued. “We all agree that there should be improvements on the house and, maybe, if we were a little bit nicer and we allowed them to do certain things [that could happen].”
Wells went on to say the farmer’s market had brought thousands of people to the town and become a multigenerational event for families and children.
Rose said she is all in favor of children and family-friendly events, but the porch did not suit the historic district and would amount to “opening a Pandora’s Box” for more events with loud music and other disruptions.
The commission voted unanimously to deny the porch.
In a separate vote, the commission unanimously approved wooden fencing on the property.
Wells, reached for comment last Friday, said she did not expect any disruption of the farmer’s market because of what occurred.
Neeb, on Sunday, added, “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Town of Berlin to promote the arts and natural outdoor space!”