Berlin Gateway In Midst Of New Building Boom

BERLIN
– Route 346 in Berlin, long a catch-all corridor for an array of uses, has seen
a trickle of redevelopment turn into a flood in the last few years, triggering
a virtual renaissance of the road also known as Old Ocean City Blvd.

At
least eight projects are in the planning stages or under construction on the
1.3-mile stretch of busy road from Main Street east to Route 50. Projects
slated for the street include a print shop, medical offices, a Mexican
restaurant, retail space, offices and homes.

Currently,
industrial sites are cheek by jowl with residences, professional offices with
small businesses. The Route 346 corridor is home to Worcester County’s only
hospital, Atlantic General, two veterinary clinics, a dog food factory a
barbershop, two banks, gas stations, shopping centers and more.

The
road is a desirable spot, developers say, in close proximity to schools, major
roads, the hospital and the resort.

“It’s
a great location for some growth,” said developer Bill Herbst, who is in the
midst of work on a project mixing retail and office space with an additional
location for his La Hacienda Mexican restaurant.

Developer
Troy Purnell, who has a number of different projects in the works along the
corridor, has pitched a large, mixed-project to replace the former Tyson
chicken plant.

“I
think it’s zoned properly. It is a business corridor. I think it’s a place to
be right now,” said Purnell.

Berlin
Planning Commission Chair Pete Cosby called the gateway to town a “natural
place” for new development.

“It’s
a major access point to Berlin,” Cosby said.

Louise
Gulyas, owner and developer of the under construction Ace Printing location and
business park, said she bought the land because of the neighborhood. The
availability of utilities attracted her as well, she said.

New
development such as her project will improve the neighborhood, said Gulyas.

Herbst
said Route 346 is prime for commercial development.

“I
think it’s a great location. Berlin’s a great area, and is in need of some
other businesses that area serves people from Pittsville all the way to Snow
Hill, West Ocean City and Ocean Pines,” Herbst said.

Herbst
said he did an extensive marketing study of the West Ocean City to Berlin
corridor in determining the right site for his additional La Hacienda location.
In the end, he chose the corner of Routes 818 and 346 for the public utilities
attached to the land. “We’ve got water and sewer which we absolutely have to
have,” Herbst said.

Dr.
Jerry Canakis, who once planned to build a medical office facility on the
roadway, said the corridor is ideal because it’s close to the hospital. Rather
than develop his property, Canakis has put the site up for sale or lease.

“Number
one is the proximity to the hospital. Another reason is the accessibility. It’s
not on a highway,” said Canakis. “It’s getting to be a nice area for business,
a business district if you will.”

Of
the eight projects in the pipeline, all are commercial or mixed use. Only two
have a residential component.

“Commercial
is strong,” said Purnell. “I think it’s a trend across the country to do a
combination, to do mixed use.”

While
industrial uses continue to inhabit Route 346, many see the tone of the street
changing to a more user-friendly mix of smaller businesses and offices
alongside homes.

The near complete
medical building at the corner of Route 346 and Healthway Dr. will be joined in
the future by a pain management office and the Purnell professional offices,
anticipated to attract medical professionals.

“The hospital’s
growing,” said Canakis.

There
is little vacant land on the street, which means that much of the new
construction will occupy sites already in use, and should not require
additional town services.

Developers
say that the changes will enhance the neighborhood and make better use of the
site.

“The
highest and best use of that Nelson Avenue property is not a parking lot,” said
Purnell, who plans to build town houses and offices on the site.

Redevelopment
on Route 346 is not a new trend, with a few properties here and there
redeveloped from residential to businesses in the last several years. Recent
years have also seen the expansion of the Barrett auto dealership and the
conversion of local homes into businesses.

Berlin
planners would like to take advantage of what they predict will be continued
change on the street by imposing some aesthetic considerations on the new
construction. The Berlin Planning Commission would like to require sidewalks,
bike trails, rear parking, large street trees and establish architectural
guidelines.

“It’s
a great idea. Your responsible developer wants that,” said Purnell.

The
recently completed Bank of Ocean City branch, in a new building of traditional
Berlin design, is a shining example of what the town would like to see on the
road.

Gulyas
is anticipating the day when sidewalks come to the corridor.

“I really think it’ll make
a nice walking community, which is what we’re looking to do,” she said.

Cosby said it will not be
easy to get that look without a corridor plan, and with several projects
underway, the lack of an official plan could be problematic.

 

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