Activities Depot Proposed Off Berlin’s Route 346

BERLIN — Unwilling to give an unconditional blessing to a design presented Wednesday, the Berlin Planning Commission did grant preliminary approval to a new building that would contain a gym, laser tag and indoor glow-in-the-dark miniature golf.

Labeled the “Berlin Activities Depot,” the 30,000-square-foot building would be located off Route 346, or Old Ocean City Boulevard, at a site formerly used for parking at the Tyson chicken plant.

Carmella Solito, who owns Twisters Gymnastics in Berlin, submitted a proposal for both preliminary and final approval to the commission on the same night due to severe time restrictions. If her new building isn’t open by July, said Solito, she’ll be locked for two years at her current location off Route 113.

Solito plans on moving her operation, which also includes day care services, a snack bar and youth gymnastics programs, to the new building. However, worries over architecture, possible future expansion, proposed entrances and design caused the commission to withhold approval.

“It’s such a small site for what’s being put on it,” said Commissioner Barb Stack.

The commission was somewhat more skeptical when it learned that Solito hopes to add an expansion onto the building within the next five years, though it wasn’t shown on the original site plan. The commission asked that plans with the expansion factored in be drawn up so a general idea of the completed structure could be obtained.

“That way you’re not surprised and we’re not surprised,” said Commissioner Ron Cascio.

There were a number of other concerns, though most were relatively minor, including a proposed entrance off Route 346.

Cascio pointed out that it was a busy highway, while the side street located next to the site was much more suited for an entrance, since its natural curve forced drivers to slow down.

Additionally, the Route 346 entrance was extremely close to a similar ingress to the Tyson property. While that property remains open and unused at the moment, the commission noted that it could become active at any time.

However, attorney Mark Cropper, who represented Solito, questioned the commission on the validity of forcing his client to change their plan because of a hypothetical conflict with a property not currently in use.

“I would hate to see the Planning Commission try to design this site for what may or may not ever be developed on [the Tyson] site,” he said.

The commission acknowledged Cropper’s point but stood by their concerns regarding the entrance. The commission drafted a list of other points including having sidewalks around the entire building and posting the property so neighbors in a nearby residential zone would have a chance to comment on the depot, including airing any concerns they may have about the building funneling more traffic into their neighborhood.

While the commission was critical of some parts of the plan, it unanimously supported Solito’s intentions and felt the Depot would be a welcome addition to the area.

“It looks like a nice plan,” said Commissioner Pete Cosby.

Commissioner John Barrett agreed and called it a “great use.” The commission asked that plans reflecting the possible expansion and addressing the concerns they mentioned be drafted as soon as possible. They also requested that Solito bring members from the firm that designed the building to the next meeting so the commission could speak to them directly. If Solito could meet all of those conditions, the commission agreed to try to set up a special meeting as soon as possible to review the new plans, perhaps as early as next week, though nothing concrete was decided.