BERLIN – Berlin plans to take over forest conservation development review of in-town projects from Worcester County, allowing the town to smooth out the process for developers and gain power over use of mitigation fees.
The Berlin Mayor and Council did not take a formal vote, but reached a consensus to pursue the change.
A dozen years ago, Berlin asked Worcester County to handle forest conservation review duties when the Maryland Forest Conservation Act was approved, imposing a new unfounded mandate on the small town.
Planning and Zoning director Chuck Ward now wants to take that power back.
Subdivision review on new developments, conducted by the town, and forest conservation review, currently conducted by the county, are so intertwined they need to be considered together, Ward said.
The forestry standards are used to set numbers and locations of trees in a project, either to be preserved or added.
The county also uses some different standards in setbacks and easements, which can lead to confusion.
Conducting both reviews under one roof will speed up the process, and should not be much of an extra burden on staff, according to Ward.
Town employees can handle the work, said Ward, who has extensive experience with the forest conservation standards.
“I don’t see a need for another staff member by any means,” said Ward.
Councilwoman Paula Lynch’s concern was what happens to the duties if Ward moves on to another job elsewhere.
“The only problem is if you’re not here, and that’s why we were using the county,” Ward said.
Anyone with experience in Maryland planning would have the knowledge to tackle the job, Ward said.
The town has no problem with the way Worcester County has handled the work so far.
The easiest way to make the changeover involves adoption of the Maryland Forest Conservation Act, Ward said.
Handling the work in-house will also keep fees in town, which would be used to preserve or plant trees or create parkland.
Marge Coyman, a citizen who once led a town-sanctioned beautification effort in Berlin, said she had asked Worcester County for funding for trees from forest conservation monies, but had a difficult time.
“I felt like I was begging for money, which came from developers in our town,” Coyman said.
The town is not getting back what it puts out, she said.
“There are fees and expenses we don’t get back,” Ward said.
With the power to handle forest conservation act standards, the town would be able to negotiate with developers on creating a green belt around the town, for instance, said Ward.
Right now, it’s not in a developer’s best interests to negotiate with the town over forestry matters, he added.
“A greenbelt is something that we want very much, but we have to have practical ways to accomplish it,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.
The town needs open spaces, and they don’t want every lot developed to the hilt, Williams said.
The move would also reinforce the Berlin Historic District Commission’s authority to require preservation of historic trees.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. Going forward, we need to protect our town,” said Council member Lisa Hall.
“It’s much, much better,” Lynch said.