Berlin Council Criticized As Anti-Business For New Regs
BERLIN -- One local real estate professional criticized Berlin’s recently adopted stormwater regulations at Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting, warning the town was not being friendly toward development.
While town officials promised to keep the complaints in mind, they do not feel that the new regulations are as restrictive or harmful to developers as Loewer portrayed them.
Douglas Loewer, president of Loewer and Associates real estate, claimed that implementation of the current stormwater regulations “leaves something to be desired.” He specifically took issue with what he considered outrageously high submittal and resubmittal fees. According to him, the fees Berlin charges for site plan submissions are “twelve times what they would be” in some other local areas.
He informed the council that the $600 submittal fee and especially the $180 resubmittal fee effectively discouraged contractors from developing in Berlin.
“In my opinion, you’ve shut down construction,” stated Loewer, who added that he would not be making any further submissions to the town.
Councilman Troy Purnell, who is a contractor himself, empathized with Loewer, but did not think that the new regulations were as devastating as Loewer was claiming.
“The concerns he had were legitimate,” said Purnell, who added that Berlin was still acclimating itself to the new codes.
However, Purnell pointed out that Berlin was simply falling in line with state law with the new stormwater regulations.
“It’s a new learning experience for all of us,” he said.
“A lot of the environmental site requirements are brand new,” agreed Mayor Gee Williams.
Williams also listened closely to Loewer’s warning. However, he did not agree that Berlin was showing development in the area an unfriendly face, and pointed out that there were multiple contractors currently going through the three-step, environmental site plan review process for stormwater management, and that no one besides Loewer had yet to raise any complaints.
Purnell, who is in the final stages of getting one of his own projects approved by the new process, agreed with Williams and remarked that he had no issues with the new procedure.
“It’s a process we’re all going to have to go through,” said Purnell. “We’re all trying to work together to figure it out.”
Town Administrator Tony Carson responded to Loewer’s claim that Berlin’s rates were unreasonably high by pointing out that, while the submission fees the town charged might be somewhat higher than the county rate, he expressed the opinion that they were fair for the level of inspection and review conducted.
“We’re confident that the program works,” he said, though he added that adjustments would be made if warranted.
“It’s fairly early on,” said Williams, pointing out that the regulations had only been adopted last spring.
However, he reinforced the fact that the code was statewide and that it was especially beneficial to Berlin, whose former stormwater issues Williams called “a nightmare.”
“We take our environmental stewardship seriously,” he said.
Darl Kolar, project manager for EA Engineering, supported the views of the council from a consultant’s perspective. Kolar, who has been working with Berlin on the implementation of the stormwater regulations ever since the town hired EA last year, informed Loewer that, while the resubmittal fees he was worried about might sound high, they weren’t actually being charged, at least not yet.
Kolar explained that no one who has had a submittal rejected has yet been charged for a resubmittal. Instead, Kolar has been consulting with the developers and providing a checklist of criteria that should be addressed while a site plan is being drawn. The developers are then able to tweak their original submissions to fall in line, usually with only minor changes.
Kolar pointed out that a rejected submission made by Loewer would have fallen into this category, as it only needed minor changes to fit the new stormwater regulations. According to Kolar, Loewer is the only person so far to complain about the new process.
“It’s a very isolated incident,” he said. Kolar admitted that Berlin fees might be higher than some other places, but was skeptical that there was a difference of up to twelve times the price, as Loewer had claimed.
While the consensus of the council was that there were no real problems with the new regulations or the town fees, especially not to the degree where they would halt construction, officials did agree that there might always be changes in the future.
Purnell said Berlin’s submission fees would be compared to surrounding areas, and that all aspects of the system would be closely examined and considered several months down the road, after Berlin got some experience with the regulations.