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25 residents give feedback on possible amenities for The Avenues

Citizens at the May 20 "Enhancements" meeting at City Hall embraced the concept depicted in this rough rendering of a neighborhood gateway landscape feature that would include a clearly marked pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Green Street and First Avenue in front of the Police Station. (click for larger version)
May 28, 2014
BERLIN — Now that heavy construction work is well underway on the relocation-reconstruction of Route 110 corridor that will connect it to Route 16 east of the active St. Lawrence & Atlantic-Canadian National Railroad (CNRR) tracks, the state Department of Transportation (NHDOT) reached out once again to City residents, elected and appointed officials, and members of the Berlin & Cos County Historical Society on Tuesday night, May 20, for feedback on project enhancements to mitigate the effect of demolishing 31 historic buildings.

Furthermore, the concept of developing protective covenants for those left standing, outlined in a signed Memorandum of Agreement, did not pan out.

Construction on the Route 110 corridor is scheduled for completion in Sept. 2015.

Many possibilities, including developing at least two viewpoints, had first been discussed in some detail at a two-day design charrette, a brainstorming process held on April 29-30, 2011, under the auspices of a team assembled by Jeff H. Taylor & Associates of Concord.

The Berlin charrette was part of a package to mitigate the new highway's impacts on the historic neighborhood of Berlin Heights Addition. This neighborhood — often called "The Avenues" — was designed and platted over 110 years ago in 1892-1893. A mix of individually built single-family houses, duplexes, and triple-deckers were constructed, making the area largely built out by 1920. The Avenue's population was diverse, with mix of European- background families represented - Russian, Italian, French Canadian, and Irish — making up the neighborhood. Unlike most New England textile towns, very little company housing was built in Berlin.

The Avenues were laid out on a grid pattern, and the new Route 110 changes this original pattern, giving rise to the possibility of pocket parks or other small grassy spaces.

The charrette team proposed the creation of a neighborhood gateway landscape feature, which would include a clearly marked pedestrian crossing with textured materials and different colored pavement, at the intersection of Green Street and First Avenue in front of the Police Station.

This was the only previously discussed idea that was embraced by those on hand at last week's meeting after Jill Edelmann, NHDOT Cultural Resources Manager, reviewed the charrette team's brainstorming ideas that were made three years ago.

Developing this feature would formally join the Avenues neighborhood to the downtown, slow down traffic coming into the City, and allow residents to cross the highway to reach the park-and-hockey rink downslope side of the Police Station.

Additional parking near the police station would also be set aside.

Interpretive panels could also be part of the design, and an important element of the park's conceptual design is leaving a rugged rock outcropping in place.

Berlin's Director of Development Pam Laflamme explained that she had discouraged a number of other possibilities from being brought forward again that would have required high-maintenance efforts by city crews, who already have more on their plate than they can keep up with: grass to mow, shrubby plants to trim and mulch, and kiosks or "street furniture" that often attract vandals. Laflamme said she favors bark mulch over grass.

Another plus of the feature's location in front of the police station is that its staff includes custodial services.

The only other suggestion that drew some favorable comment at last week's session was floated out by active members of the Historical Society: a book that would detail Berlin's history so that it would be readily available whenever projects, developments or other planned changes are being proposed in the City.

The Federal Highway Administration set an up-to-$200,000 figure on mitigation enhancements, and, because this area is within the Urban Compact, the City would pay up-to-$40,000 for any approved projects, subject to City Council approval.

Two state historic markers are also on the drawing board at either end of the Avenues neighborhood, thanks to the state Division of Historical Resources. Berlin already has two such markers: Boom Piers near 10th Street, and Maynesborough's First Residence on River Road. The Nansen Ski Jump marker is located in Milan, near the Berlin city line. Historical Society member Jackie Nadeau of Berlin said that two new markers for one neighborhood is "overkill." Only 200 words can be included on a state marker.

A draft historic property document notes that "European settlement of Berlin (initially Maynesborough) dates to the early 19th century. Initial settlement began in 1821 on the east side of the Androscoggin River with incorporation in 1829, at which time there were approximately 73 inhabitants." The powerful river at its confluence with Dead River provided enough water power for small saw- and grist-mills, and there were also lots of trees growing on the hills and nearby mountains, as well as good arable land for crops.

"Only with the arrival of the railroad in 1851, however, and an economical means of transport for lumber and wood products did the town's development begin to flourish," the document continues. "The railroad provided access beyond a local market and attracted outside investors to the town to build large-scale operations.

"The second most significant and transformative event in Berlin's long-term development was the introduction of the wood pulp industry, beginning in the late 1870s," the researcher points out. It is in this context that Berlin Heights Addition, referred to as "The Avenues" for its north-south running numbered avenues was laid out. An earlier neighborhood was named Berlin Heights, so the word "Addition" was used. Most of its lots measure 50- by 100-feet.

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