BERLIN- A handful of speakers identified some issues with and changes they’d like to see made in the draft Berlin Comprehensive Plan during a public hearing Monday night.
The town has until October to approve the planning document, which has been delayed several times over the years.
Kate Patton, director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, spoke in favor of a green belt of preserved open space around town in addition to the urban growth boundary already included in the draft plan. It is not entirely clear from the draft whether a green belt element is part of the urban growth boundary area, she said.
A green belt would provide a rural buffer around the town, Patton said, and on the west side of town could encompass forested areas. The urban growth boundary would allow a transition from the town to the green belt, and could be used as a sending area for transfer development rights, which would benefit those landowners, she felt.
“It’s critical in maintaining that unique character of Berlin,” said Patton.
An area near the Maryland State Police barracks labeled as a sensitive species protection area also appears to be shown as a growth area, Patton pointed out, which is inconsistent. The plan suggests that developers preserve the sensitive areas, but does not appear to require protection or preservation, Patton said.
Patton praised efforts to create more walking and biking opportunities in town, which promote less dependence on fossil fuels, better air quality, and healthier citizens.
While the east border of town faces much growth, the town will look to the north, west, and south for a green belt, Mayor Gee Williams said.
The east side of town faces Ocean City and the development that spreads out from it. Establishing a green belt there is not possible now, Williams said.
“We’ll salvage what we can,” Williams said.
He hopes to preserve some open space west of Stephen Decatur High School and east of Ames Plaza, as an internal green belt. The critical spot to preserve on the east side of town is Assateague Rd. traveling into Berlin, Patton said.
Steve Farr, manager of Grow Berlin Green, commended the objectives set out by the draft plan. He supports the pursuit of renewable energy in town, and asked the town council to amend the draft plan to require developers to set aside land for open space. He also supported the use of transfer development rights.
“It is still only a plan,” Farr said. “It must be followed up with strong implementing regulations.”
Farr called for prompt implementation of the plan through the comprehensive rezoning, and asked that the council add a deadline to the plan for that implementation.
Worcester County took three and a half years to complete its comprehensive plan with the county comprehensive rezoning.
“I hope we can do better in the town,” Farr said.
Town officials agreed the gap between adoption of the comprehensive plan and the associated rezoning should not take as long.
“We definitely agree with you. We don’t want it to drag on,” said Williams.
Resident Cam Bunting had several specific map issues to discuss, which she will go over in detail with town staff. One of her questions concerned a town center land use label applied outside the current town center.
Planning and Zoning director Chuck Ward said the new town center designation is the same as the current downtown zoning, and in the draft plan extends neighborhood business zoning down Broad St. into the current industrial zoning, in the ice plant and Atkins Hardware vicinities.
Attorney Joe Moore, representing several clients, also pointed out a mapping issue, saying that the town growth area, to the north of town, outside town limits, does not match the growth area enshrined in the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan. The county plan, struck in 2006, is based on what the town wanted as growth area, Moore said.
That inconsistency negatively affects some of his clients, Moore said.
“Growth area number three is too small,” said Moore. “It doesn’t comport with what you recommended to the county. What it precludes you all from doing is attempting to reach an agreement with regard to annexation,” said Moore.
The Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) had several concerns over the Berlin draft plan, Moore said, listed in an 11-page letter, including inconsistencies with the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan and internal inconsistencies.
Williams recommended that Moore meet with town staff to iron out the problems he brought up. The Berlin Town Council will consider approving the draft comprehensive plan at a later date.