BERLIN — In the wake of several difficult decisions by the Planning, and Zoning and Historic District commissions, the chairs of those bodies, Newt Chandler and Carol Rose, respectively, sought direction from the Mayor and Council on developing architectural guidelines and neighborhood definitions.
The two said that developing better neighborhood definitions and architectural standards would make it easier to justify what can sometimes be seen as arbitrary decisions by those bodies. The primary difficulty is in the areas of the Town outside of the Historic District — the Historic Commission wields near-absolute power over nearly every facet of that section.
Chandler explained to the Council that years of changing architecutral styles and aesthetics have begun to take their toll on neighborhood uniformity.
“As the old stuff gets torn down and new stuff goes up we’re just trying to preserve the character of these neighborhoods,” he said.
His recommendation was that the Town hire professionals to produce 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.
The primary sticking point — which will have to be worked out as the guidelines are developed — is whether to enforce standards or suggest guidelines to potential builders.
Chandler suggested the Town could offer tax incentives to builders to help defray the cost of the more particular guidelines. Rose was more interested in making the standards absolute.
The continuing discussion of whether the Town should risk chasing new businesses away by have requirements too expensive for a regular contractor to profitably meet lead into a discussion about the recent denial of the Chamber of Commerce’s appeal to redo the Visitors Center.
Councilwoman Lisa Hall, who was at the meeting, agreed with the Historic District Commission that the building didn’t suit the town.
“It was an improvement, but it wasn’t Victorian,” she said. “It kind of looked like a Western Theme Park building.”
Chandler’s concern was to separate the rest of the Town from having the same rigorous and absolute standards as the Historic District Commission used to try and keep the other sections of Town within the means of those who would improve it.
He cited as an example the athletic complex that is to take the place of the former Tyson plant offices on Old Ocean City Boulevard.
While he admitted the design might not have been ideal, he worried that too stringent a code without any incentive at all could have killed that deal.
The entire Old Ocean City Road corridor is an architectural hodgepodge. Looking to the future, Chandler said he expected that as those buildings were replaced or renovated, incentives to meet specific architectural standards could improve the entire neighborhood’s aesthetic.
Planning Supervisor Chuck Ward agreed that their ought to be guidelines and that they should be developed in conjunction with a company who did this kind of thing professionally. He said that architectural standards were not his field of expertise in response to questions about whether the staff could write them without hiring a company to do so.
At the Council’s direction he said he would include the cost to have the pattern book produced in his budget, but not as a line item.
Town Administrator Tony Carson pointed out that having the Town’s cost expectation laid out in a public document might skew the bidding process once the call for proposals goes out.
The Council agreed.