BERLIN — Planning Supervisor Chuck Ward approached the Mayor and Council on behalf of the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to ask that body to provide a little extra leeway when it came to deciding upon variances for bed and breakfast operations.
Under the current rules, beds and breakfasts all fall under the same restrictions, but Ward said that some of the current rules may be too restrictive for larger places.
The difficulty is that under the current code a small neighborhood bed and breakfast has the same restrictions as places like the Waystead Inn, which occupies more than an acre of land. The proposed rule change would allow the BZA to treat these types of places differently from those that are wedged into the middle of a residential neighborhood.
“Essentially it grant’s the Board of Appeals flexibility,” Ward said. He added that there were only a “large handful” of properties to which a potential rule change would apply.
As it stands now, for instance, the Waystead Inn can function only as a bead and breakfast, serving meals as part of their room rental fee, although the property has enough space and property to accommodate much more in the way of potential business expansion.
Under the proposed rule change the BZA wold have both the power to make exceptions based on a property’s size and the power to enforce tighter controls on those properties as well.
As an example, the lighting requirements could be pretty specific for a place based on its distance from a neighborhood. One requirement that would remain in place without question is the notification process so that any of the neighbors would have an opportunity to air their concerns.
A public hearing on the proposed change will be held during the 7 p.m. Monday, April 23 meeting of the Council.
In other zoning business, Ward also brought a concern to the Mayor and Council regarding the potential for allowing the Planning Commission to consider building height on a case-by-case basis.
Current code lists maximum construction height at 30 feet but an investigation into the matter demonstrated that buildings erected after that standard was applied are higher. There are some who propose a change that would allow a 35-foot-tall structure to be built but the Planning Commission has concerns about making a sweeping change.
Earlier this month the Commission asked for and received permission to begin developing a“pattern book” from which to develop architectural guidelines. A pattern book illustrated which sections of town constitute which “neighborhoods” and from their discovers the dominant architectural style.
Using guidelines produce from this book the Planning Commission, for example, could make better and clearer recommendations to would-be builders when it comes to how the buildings should look. It would also apply to building height determining a maximum standard based on the character of the neighborhood rather than on an arbitrary, town-wide number.
Until the pattern book is complete, the Council suggested the best course would be a gentle use of guidelines for making exceptions where appropriate.
“Is there any reason this, what I’ll call a bridge measure, would not be appropriate?” Mayor Gee Williams asked.
While the measure itself might not be inappropriate, the language was worrisome to Town Attorney David Gaskill who thought the definitions it used were too vague.
Over the next several weeks the Town Staff will work with the Planning Commission to contrive language that is specific enough that changes could potentially be allowed until the final standard book is developed.