Berlin Comp Plan Heads To Council

BERLIN – After years of prep work, the draft of the new Berlin Comprehensive Plan has been given a favorable recommendation by the Berlin Planning Commission.

The commission, which met Wednesday night, agreed that the draft comprehensive plan should be sent on to the Berlin Mayor and Council for the next step in the approval process.

The state’s Maryland Department of Planning reviewed the draft comprehensive plan this fall for comment. Changes related to those comments have been made, said Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward.

The comments were technical in nature and did not ask for any substantive change, said Tim Bourcier, a consultant from Davis Bowen and Friedel, who took over drafting the comprehensive plan two years ago after staff had made no real progress on it.

“Tim’s made pretty extensive changes in the last draft plan you saw to address the comments from the state,” said Ward.

The state was chiefly concerned over growth numbers, which it felt were excessive, Bourcier said.

The Commission held a public hearing Wednesday night.

Steve Farr of Grow Berlin Green and Assateague Coastal Trust asked whether the growth areas were too extensive and could contribute to sprawl.

The way the state looks at things, Bourcier said, is that population increases that can be taken care of through infill should not need growth areas. Yet the state also told Worcester County, in its comprehensive plan process four years ago, to direct growth to the borders of towns.

Bourcier said the sprawl effect should not happen in Berlin because of the urban growth boundary or green belt.

There is a conflict between Berlin’s idea of the urban growth boundary and the county’s desire to direct 2,900 units of growth over the next few decades to Berlin’s borders, Farr said.

“Generally speaking, the county has disregarded the town’s plan for growth,” said Bourcier.

The county growth areas were decided in 2005, before the county comprehensive plan was approved in 2006.

“They just stuck ‘em outside the door,” commission member Ron Cascio said.

If the county and the town had been able to coordinate, Cascio said, the county could have assigned its growth units to the town itself, a scenario seen recently in Denton, Md.

“The county and the town got together and worked it out. To me, the county didn’t do us any favors,” Cascio said.

Bourcier noted that although the county’s plan was completed years before the town’s draft, the town did send that draft to the county this fall. The county also completed its long delayed comprehensive rezoning this fall.

While the town did meet with the county on growth areas, according to Cascio, county staff told him that Berlin’s plan sounds good, but it was not what the town had told them before and the growth areas would not be changed. It also took nine months to arrange that meeting with county staff, he said.

“The county and the town did not work together essentially at all,” Cascio said.

The problem with cooperating on growth is that the county and the town plans were not being done at the same time, Ward said.

If the county wants good relations with the town, it should not ignore major policy changes, Cascio said.