BERLIN – Talks on the last few chapters of Berlin’s draft Comprehensive Plan turned to a conflict between Worcester County’s growth areas around the town and the Berlin Planning Commission’s vision of those growth areas, specifically the Bay Club golf course.
The Berlin Planning Commission held a draft comprehensive plan workshop Wednesday night, spending most of that time talking to Worcester County Planning Department Director Ed Tudor and his deputy, Phyllis Wimbrow.
The Bay Club golf course, which is west of Berlin and does not connect with the town’s current border, has long been spoken of as a potential residential development site. It is included in the Worcester County land use maps as a growth area, at the request of the Berlin Mayor and Council several years ago.
The vision of the town’s current planning commission no longer includes that property as a site for new houses, however.
“I don’t think it’s an appropriate growth area at this point,” said Planning Commission member Pete Cosby, who would like to see it changed.
“We’re way beyond that point now,” said Tudor.
The Worcester County Comprehensive Plan, which includes the land use maps showing growth areas, was approved in March 2006.
Planning Commission Chair Newt Chandler suggested writing a letter to the County Commissioners expressing the members’ concern.
The commissioners will be considering passage of the draft county rezoning and subdivision regulations, part of the county comprehensive plan, this fall.
Comprehensive plans can legally be amended after approval, county staff said.
Designating the Bay Club as a growth area came from previous Mayor Tom Cardinale.
“We weren’t swift enough to know the difference,” said longtime Berlin Council member Paula Lynch.
The land use maps show more land in the growth area than what the county actually proposes to zone for growth, said Wimbrow, who added land use and zoning maps are different entities.
“We’re way ahead of ourselves out there and that’s not the precedent we’d like to set,” said Cosby.
Lynch said the growth area label for the Bay Club had to do with past concerns about spray irrigation land. The differences in opinion between then and now highlights the problem generated with the lapse of so much time between the county plan approval and the county rezoning, Lynch said. Now, the economy has soured and ideas have shifted.
“The process took so long the reality’s changed,” Lynch said.
Planning Commission member Ron Cascio said this inconsistency should be addressed.
“We have a conflict here with what the town now says they want and what has finally come before the County Commissioners,” said Cascio.
Cosby suggested sending a letter to the Berlin Mayor and Council asking for a letter requesting that change to Worcester County.
“We’ve got to find a way around this,” Cascio said.
One difficulty for the county is that property owners in that area would need to be given a chance to weigh in on the change, which would reopen things to general public comment.
“They’d have to have opportunity to comment again,” Wimbrow said.
Tudor said, “They have certain expectations.”
The town is anxious to take action on the growth area conflict. “I recommend you do it posthaste,” said Tudor.
“That’s why we’ve been requesting a meeting for three months,” Cascio said.
Berlin Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward said that the most effective way to bring the matter up might be to follow procedure and send the Berlin draft comprehensive plan to the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and Worcester County as required. MDP would have something to say about the conflict, Ward said.
“In future, obviously, don’t ask for stuff that you don’t want,” said Tudor.
Cascio said that decision was not made by the planning commission.
“You’re talking to the wrong people,” Cascio said.
Chandler said the town and county can limit what happens on the property because utilities would need to be extended.
“They can’t accomplish a lot without water or sewer,” Chandler said of potential development at the Bay Club golf course.
Cascio suggested the planning commission meet with county staff on a regular basis so this kind of conflict does not arise in the future. Recent attempts to arrange meetings with the county have fallen flat.
Tudor said he has been consumed with the county’s draft rezoning and subdivision regulations, but said that he and Wimbrow are always available to meet with the Berlin planning commission.
“I want us to know what’s going on … we don’t want our town to lose its identity. That’s our main philosophy here,” Cosby said.