A little HUBRIS + A lot of HURRY = ‘Historic’ HUMILIATION

First, it is with regret that I read last week about the resignation of Mr. Bob McIntosh from the Berlin Historic District Commission.  His long and dedicated citizen volunteer, service plus his caring expertise will be sorely missed.

To begin, what arose from simple property maintenance need has created a most confusing situation.  Reading reports this weekend in the local tabloids I came away wanting to record my own thoughts.  My story goes something like this…

The Atlantic Hotel, the beloved landmark property located in the heart of Berlin MD’s Historic District, was found to need a window upgrade.  Apparently, the old, single pane, wood sashes of yore weren’t getting the job done – certainly understandable.  An upgrade to a more energy-efficient window system was deemed advisable.  Sadly, this is where the problems began…an owner representative contacted a local contractor of long standing.  Together it was decided that vinyl replacements would be both inexpensive and efficient…and soon, without benefit of obtaining a Town of Berlin building permit, 16 windows were replaced, unfortunately, without notification to the Berlin Historic District Commission as required under the Town Code…<http://www.ecode360.com/?custId=BE0619&guid=12485850&j=23>.

Was this lack of notification to the Town a little hubris or ignorance of the Town Code – I guess we’ll never really know?

Nevertheless, after installation of those now infamous sixteen windows, and being cited (caught) by the Town’s Code Enforcement officials, the Hotel’s representative deemed it advisable to come before the Town’s Historic District Commission and the case was presented on Wednesday, December 1st.

That evening, finding myself present that at this ‘packed house’, most newsworthy event, I didn’t have long to wonder the identity of the strange woman seated beside me.  After lengthy testimony by Mr. Larry Wigeon reciting that vinyl windows were the most affordable and efficient way for the Hotel to affect a solution and the representing attorney, Mr. Hugh Cropper, pleading forgiveness of the oversight. The mystery woman woman then got up and identified herself as Ms. Elizabeth Beckley, a representative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Eastern Shore Field Director of ‘Preservation Maryland’.  Indeed!  She quickly proceeded to refute Mr. Wigeon’s conclusions, saying that historically accurate, wood framed, sash replacement windows were available and in fact, were equal to or greater than vinyl in R value (energy efficiency) and equal to or lesser than vinyl in cost!  She ended her testimony by offering to supply a list of various local contractors who would be happy to submit a window estimate to the Hotel.  Further testimony from Staff caused even more consternation. Yikes!

A couple of glances up to look at the faces of the Historic Commission Board members; Chairman Bob McIntosh, Mary Rose and Kit Matthews (Betty Hammond having temporarily stepped down due to possible conflict of interest and Mary Moore being absent) told me that this issue was indeed causing confusion and concern.  To rule against long time friends, neighbors and town investors in order to enforce the Code was difficult.  After a couple of false starts it was voted that the Hotel was in violation and the sixteen vinyl windows would possibly have to be removed, to be replaced with wood…and with a to-be-determined fine levied for the violation.

The next hearing of the now ‘Atlantic window deal’ was when a notice circulated stating that the Hotel had filed an appeal and the ‘window deal’ would come before the Berlin Zoning Appeals Board on Wednesday, December 14th.

A further later installment to this regrettable story came about last week when Mayor Gee Williams, hastily decided to defy Berlin Town Code and allow the Hotel’s vinyl windows to remain and forgive any fines.  Again, understandable, practical – but perhaps not wise or even legal!  Certainly not setting an example of ‘leadership by example’ – the old ‘do as I say not as I do’!

We’re up to current with this story…and the Town’s in a fine pickle!  The never to be discounted, ‘Berlin grape-vine’ is wondering if what Gee has done is legal…I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about that.  Certainly our Town Code Enforcement has been effectively neutered – with a, ‘if they can do it, why not me?’ defiant attitude echoing from most everyone.  Also, innuendos abound as to the basis for Mayor William’s actions…again, we’ll never know!

Finally, by his summary action has Gee placed Berlin in further jeopardy with the various Historic Preservation groups – the ones that support with future grants and tax breaks?

In conclusion…my thoughts are that having no real industry except tourism, to speak of in Berlin, – our capital is in our ‘Historic-ness’ and to put this ‘…ness’ in jeopardy is perhaps more than a little bit of hubris plus a lot of hurry which equals much unwanted ‘Historic HUMILIATION’, within our fine little town of Berlin MD.

To leave a comment just ‘click’ on the post title and a comment box will appear.