Residents Stress Growth, Preservation In Survey

BERLIN – While Berlin’s new comprehensive plan will be completed ahead of the state deadline, the work has been delayed by the results of a town survey, which revealed new directions to include in the planning document.

Seven of the 11 required comprehensive plan components have been completed, and five of those elements have been recommended by the Berlin Planning Commission for approval.

The Berlin Mayor and Council must approve the final draft of the comprehensive plan by October, a deadline set by the state of Maryland.

The remaining four elements are housing, implementation, municipal growth and water resources, according to Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward.

The housing section is nearly complete, Ward said.

Implementation is the last element of the plan to be considered.

The water resource section is dependent on the municipal growth section and cannot be completed until the growth component is finished, according to Berlin staff.

“The key right now is the municipal growth element,” said Ward.

The survey of town residents results derailed the municipal growth element by revealing strong preferences among respondents that did not arise or were not strongly supported during public input sessions, and therefore have not been included in the draft comprehensive plan yet.

The survey was sent to roughly 1,800 households and garnered a 25-percent return rate, or about 440 households.

Some of the previously unconsidered issues brought up in returned surveys include a green belt around the town, keeping residential growth slow, residential uses downtown and focusing growth within existing town limits, instead of directing growth toward property annexed into town.

“Overwhelmingly, it was amazing how many people in town were concerned with historic preservation, and managing growth…the survey results came back and it was an eye opener for consultants and staff,” said Ward of the survey.

“The results are very clear. It’s not ambiguous. It’s not iffy,” said Mayor Gee Williams. “This is not something we have to worry about statistical anomalies.”

Survey results will be released in the next few weeks.

“It is going to be our guidepost for some time,” Williams said.

The survey included both comprehensive plan questions and more general questions generated by the Mayor and Council.

The Planning Commission will review the entire comprehensive plan draft in May and then send it to elected officials for final consideration.

The Mayor and Council will get the draft in June, according to staff.

A public hearing on the draft plan should be held that month.

Final approval of Berlin’s new comprehensive plan could be reached as early as July, Ward said, which would be months ahead of the state deadline in October.

The town has been working at a new comprehensive plan for several years, last year finally engaging consultant Tim Bourcier of Davis Bowen and Friedel engineers to write the plan.

The Berlin Planning Commission will hold a work session on some aspects of the comprehensive plan on Monday, March 30, at 6 p.m. in Berlin Town Hall. The meeting, while not a public input event, is open to the public.