Town Of Berlin Notebook

BERLIN – The Berlin Mayor and Council discussed several topics briefly at Monday night’s meeting, from the public hearing for the new draft Berlin comprehensive plan and reimbursement for snow removal expenses to the Program Open Space wishlist for the next fiscal year.

— A public hearing on the long delayed draft of the Berlin Comprehensive Plan in front of Berlin’s Town Council will be held April 12.

The Berlin Planning and Zoning Commission approved the draft plan earlier this month, with a favorable recommendation for adoption by the town council.

“It’s been a long process. It’s not perfect,” said Planning Commission Chair Newt Chandler.

The plan has been four years in the making, Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward said.

“It’s designed to guide the grown and development of the town through 2030,” said Ward.

The draft plan was created with public and professional input.

“There was a major process of getting the community together,” Ward said.

Over 100 people attended the first meeting held by consultant Tim Bourcier. Another community meeting was followed by a town wide survey. The planning commission then scrutinized each section of the draft over the last year.

One of the defining components of the draft plan is the urban growth boundary, which limits the maximum growth of the town through 2030. The growth boundary directs growth into the town, in more dense neighborhoods.

The commission devoted as much time to the urban growth boundary as to the rest of the draft, Ward said.

The plan also addresses housing, heritage issues and environmental concerns.

“It’s not a regulatory document, it is a guideline,” Ward said.

The draft comprehensive plan is available on the town of Berlin website.

— Regulations passed last fall could negatively impact reimbursements for Berlin’s snow emergency costs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The new regulations, passed in November, could substantially limit municipalities’ ability to seek relief for emergencies such as blizzards.

Under the regulations, seeking reimbursement for the two blizzards this past winter could reduce future FEMA reimbursements for emergency events. The rules also cap payments at 75 percent of the town’s cost.

The town would also like to see the two snow events be treated as one, since the town had very little time to deal with the first snow fall before the second storm. 

“Neither of the storms individually qualified us for record or near record snowfall,” Human Resource Director Rachel Bomar said.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has written a letter to President Barack Obama requesting relief from those regulations for this winter’s snow emergencies.

Bomar said she does not know when a decision on that request will be made and has no indication that there was any real movement on a resolution.

The process is lengthy, requiring two interviews, and FEMA has just begun interviewing on reimbursement requests from December snow events.

“We may be in 90 degree weather and getting reimbursed for February events,” Bomar said.

Senator Barbara Mikulski and other elected officials are pursuing the matter.

“There’s a lot of people pushing for us over the bridge,” Bomar said.  

Councilwoman Lisa Hall pointed out that nobody appears to be succeeding with FEMA, including Garrett County, which experienced historically high levels of snow this year.

“Nobody’s getting any money,” Hall said.

The snowfall records are kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Bomar said.

— There will be no state Program Open Space (POS) money for Berlin this year, staff confirmed Monday night.

“No new programs will be considered this year,” said Deputy Town Administrator Mary Bohlen.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is in the same economic position as the rest of the state, Bohlen said.

The town will keep the same initiatives on its POS wishlist this year as last year – an environmental park and improvements to the tot lot at Stephen Decatur Park.

At least, in the future, the state will see that Berlin has maintained consistent open space goals, Williams said.

The town council unanimously approved the POS wishlist.