BERLIN – Over 45 citizens, a standing room crowd, turned out for the first visioning meeting for the Berlin Comprehensive Plan this week.
“It’s the biggest one I’ve worked with on the Eastern Shore,” said planning consultant Tim Bourcier of Davis, Bowen, and Friedel, who has been hired to write the new comprehensive plan. “We need your help. That’s why everyone’s here.”
While he and his colleagues assess a town carefully when preparing to write a comprehensive plan, Bourcier said the townsfolk have varied points of view that are important to the purpose of the document, to guide future growth.
By law, a comprehensive plan in Maryland must consider land use, community facilities, sensitive areas, transportation, parks and recreation, and future growth areas, and present solutions. Berlin has decided to also look at workforce and affordable housing solutions in town in the plan, which, under Maryland law, makes Berlin eligible for grant funds to support those goals.
It is too early in the process for a draft plan to be available. Previous drafts of the new comprehensive plan have been thrown out and Bourcier is essentially starting fresh.
The meeting Wednesday night was intended to elicit citizen visions of the town’s future as a basis for the comprehensive plan.
“Your input’s going to be used to develop the vision for the town,” Bourcier told the crowd before splitting it into several smaller groups.
Citizens will have several further chances to weigh in before the plan draft is ready, including surveys in the town newsletter and online.
A second visioning meeting will also be held in June. “It’ll be a continuous input process as we put this plan together,” said Bourcier.
One small group of ordinary citizens had strong feelings on their vision for Berlin. The group showed a consensus that the historic areas of the town must be protected, while not running wild with the historic district designation or restrictions. The historic district and new developments alike need detailed design standards, though not the same one, telling home owners and builders exactly what is wanted without leaving them vulnerable to the whims or tastes of the historic district or planning commission. Standards should also be applied to the entrances to town, to make them attractive to visitors.
Also, tax incentives should be offered to property owners to restore their historic structures.
The town needs more facilities for children, according to the group, a concentration on local and small business, and some protection for big trees along the streets of Berlin. The group also supported making the town more walk friendly.
More housing opportunities through mixed uses, such as lofts above shops, would allow more intense residential density, and broaden the customer base for downtown shops and businesses. One man called the zoning code too suburban, which does not promote that kind of housing. Parking would need to be increased to handle more mixed uses.
The group suggested in-town businesses that would make the town more self-sufficient, such as a grocery store, hardware store and pharmacy, as well as quality of life businesses like a pizza carry-out or coffee shop. Requirements could be lessened on smaller, less intense businesses.
The town also needs to decide how large and fast the medical campus should grow.
Growth needs to be restricted, and the town should continue requiring new development to pay for its impact on the town, such as wastewater service, they felt, and rules should be established for land annexations, to prevent the town from growing too fast.