Planning board considers Brown School proposal

The Berlin Planning Board got its first look at plans to convert the former Brown School into n apartment complex. Making the presentation are (standing, from left) architect Mike Couture, Sonny Couture of Couture Construction and Fred Dambrie. In the foreground are planning board member Naomi Levesque; Berlin Code Enforcement Officer Michel Salek; and planning board members Suzanne Wasileski and Lucie Remillard. (BARBARA TETREAULT PHOTO)

BERLIN — The planning board got its first look at plans for the former Brown School property last week when the proposed developer sought the board’s comments.

Planning Board Chair Tom McCue stressed that the developer is not before the board for site plan review. He said developer Fred Dambrie Wildcat LLC, along with Berlin contractor Sonny Couture and architect Mike Couture, wanted to meet with the board to make sure their plan is viable before going ahead and finalizing purchase of the property from the city.

As outlined, the three said the plan is to convert the school into a higher end apartment complex. There would be 18 apartments including six so-called “micro-apartments,” six one-bedroom apartments, and six two-bedroom apartments. The micro-apartments are small open concept units designed to rent to traveling nurses or as Air BnB units. There would be one handicap-accessible apartment.

The plans include creating a small coffee shop that would be open to the public. Dambrie said they would create event space for weddings or for theater groups, pointing out there is a stage in what is now the gymnasium.

New windows, soundproofing, air conditioning, and zone heating are all part of the plan. Thirty on-site parking spaces would also be provided. The property will be landscaped and walkways created to the river across Route 16.

“It’s a lovely site,” Dambrie said, especially noting this summer the city plans to start constructing its river walk.

McCue said he wanted the developers to understand the project is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. He said parking on Norway Street is a concern. Dambrie said that is a definite consideration and said they want to be well received. He said he hopes the project brings some upscale housing to the neighborhood.

Planning board member Lucie Remillard said parking should not be as heavy as when the school was there.

Mayor Paul Grenier, who attended the meeting, said the city has not transferred ownership of the property.

The city issued a request for proposals for the Brown School last fall and received from proposals New England Family Housing/TKB Properties of Berlin and Wildcat LLC of Jackson. The council, with the recommendation of the Brown School Reuse Committee, selected the proposal from Fred Dambrie.

The board continued a site plan application from Timberland Adventures of Shelburne for a 10-unit cabin campground at the corner of Head Pond Road and Route 110. The cabins would be seasonal to take advantage of ATV riders. Berlin Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said the planning board cannot give even conditional approval until applications have been submitted for state permits. Representing Timberland Adventure owners David and Laurie Redston, Burke York said he would be submitting the applications soon. The hearing was continued until the March board meeting.

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