Berlin Eyes Green Boundary To Control Growth

BERLIN – The green belt talked about for Berlin in recent discussions of the draft comprehensive plan is more properly about creating a permanent boundary line for outward town growth, town elected officials agreed Wednesday night.

The Berlin Mayor and Council met with the Berlin Planning Commission Wednesday night to discuss some concerns the commission had over the direction of some elements of the draft comprehensive plan.

Town citizens have made it clear that they want limits on town growth to avoid sprawl, said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.

The growth boundary would ensure that the town would grow only so far from its current limits and then stop.

“People absolutely positively do not want to have a town without limits,” said Williams.

The growth boundary needs to be enshrined in the town’s new comprehensive plan because a piecemeal approach would not be effective, Williams felt.

“That has not worked historically. You end up with Salisbury,” said Williams.

The debate is not the concept, but on how to achieve that goal. The process needs to be “feasible, practical and fair to land owners but also to the town,” said Williams.

Newt Chandler, chair of the planning commission, called the “permanent” designation “adversarial” and said it would put off landowners.

“It’s not to restrict any building whatsoever. It’s basically to mark a logical, well thought out transition…we have to codify it in some way,” said Williams.

“I think it’s necessary to give future planning commissions a guide,” said planning commission member Pete Cosby.

The boundary area must be detailed, he said. “This is the most important thing, in my opinion,” he said.

Without a border limiting development in town, Berlin would eventually have second-class neighborhoods, reducing property values, Williams said.

“We’re committed to this,” said Williams. “We’re not trying to screw land owners out of the value of their land.”

The town needs to talk to the county, said Planning Commission member Ron Cascio.

“We’re trying to draw a line around something that’s not ours,” he said.

One tool to achieve that green boundary would be a transfer development rights program, said Planning Commission member Joe Hill, which would let a landowner sell development rights from an area meant for a green boundary.

Growth areas are another concern raised by the planning commission, since growth areas delineated in the draft plan by the plan consultant do not match growth areas as chosen by the Berlin Mayor and Council during the 2006 comprehensive plan process.

“It’s a matter of trying to figure out how many people are coming here and how to accommodate them,” said Cascio, who added that he has some serious doubts about the numbers of new residents proposed in the county comprehensive plan.

The world has changed and the expected retirees with fat retirement accounts will not be moving to the area in droves, he felt.

“Are we setting the table for this party for people who aren’t coming?” Cascio asked.

The growth zones are not there to be built out to the maximum degree, said Williams.            He would also like to see some empty infill lots in town remain open, saying there should be some incentive for landowners to not build out every single lot in Berlin.

Councilwoman Lisa Hall would like to see another public workshop held before the draft plan is turned over to the town council with clear map displays in particular.

“You need to let them see,” said Hall. “When they see it, it changes their minds a lot of times.”