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Berlin Planning Commission approves multi-use building on Gay Street

By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer

(Sept. 21, 2023) The Berlin Planning Commission unanimously approved plans for a multi-use business and residential building at 19 Gay Street on Tuesday.

 Occupying the property currently are a house and shed that will be demolished to make way for a three-story building, with the first story available for businesses and the second and third story to be used as residential, with four two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units. The units will each be two stories and have balconies accessed from the third floor.

The six apartments are expected to be long-term rentals, but the developer, Jonathan Sully, suggested he might try one Airbnb to see how it goes, although he would prefer to do long-term rentals for all of them.

He expects to have two businesses on the first floor, one of which will be his architecture  firm.

He hopes the other might be a like-minded business related to design.

The building will have 12 parking spaces for the six apartments and seven for the commercial space, including two handicapped.

While the Historic Commission had already approved the elevation of the building, that did not stop a discussion on whether the building fit in with the historical nature of the town.

“I think the historic commission made a big mistake,” commission member Newt Chandler said of the exterior of the building.

“The facade does not match anything within the historic district in the town of Berlin. The historic district is the lifeblood of this little town. People come to see that. Whether it is purity of materials or it just looks like it, that’s our selling point.

“I know you’ve gotten approval, but I don’t believe in that architecture at all for the historic district.”

Sully replied that he had met with the Historic Commission three times and made changes to the building to reflect the historic nature of the town.

This included the brick facade with a bulkhead down low like other stores, instead of floor-to-ceiling glass.

“I don’t believe we should be building buildings today that replicate what was built 100 years ago,” Sully said. “ I think we should be building buildings today that are representative of current times and what people want out of the buildings. People want different things out of buildings today than they did 100 years ago.”

Commission member Pete Cosby came to his defense.

“The brickwork ties the building into the town in a way that is unique. Having a unique building is a good thing for Berlin. I think it is an impressive design and the brick makes it happen. I don’t think Berlin is in a position to be a purist about history,” he said.

 “The purpose of the historic district is to preserve what you’ve got and to have room for the future.”

“I think it is a great change to that area and great infill. You are taking a property that is not being used and turning it into a productive property for six residences and two businesses,” commission member Matt Stoehr said.

“The language in the code section uses the word complimentary to adjoining properties in the historic district. It does not have to be matchy-matchy. We are not Disneyland,” Planning Director Dave Engelhart told the commission.

Also coming to Sully’s defense, commission member Ron Cascio added, I think it would not work on Main Street, but it works very well where it is. It will be the most attractive thing on that street or anywhere around there for some time.”