Berlin Planners Give Approval To Activities Depot

BERLIN — Support from neighboring residents helped sway the Berlin Planning Commission’s decision to approve a final site plan for a proposed Berlin Activities Depot.

“This kind of thing could really do a lot for the town,” said Commissioner Pete Cosby.

The plans were first reviewed by the commission two weeks ago. The 30,000-square-foot facility is set to include a gymnasium, laser tag, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf and daycare facilities. The proposed location is off Route 346, or Old Ocean City Blvd., at a location used for parking for the former Tyson poultry plant. Currently, the site is vacant and has been for years.

Though none of the commission members disagreed bringing in the facility to Berlin would be beneficial, dissatisfaction over details in the original plan convinced them to withhold final approval until after a special session this week.

At Wednesday’s session, experts provided by the applicant, Carmella Solito, owners of Twisters on Route 113, were able to persuade both Solito’s neighbors and the commission that the depot was ready for approval.

The first issue they addressed was what kind of impact developing the spot would have on stormwater management in the surrounding area.

Irving Truitt, who lives near the property, told the commission that his street already deals with serious flooding during rain events.

“We’ve had stormwater issues on Nelson St. for about 25 years that the town has ignored,” he said.

Truitt said he was afraid Solito’s plan to develop the site would only increase flooding.

Steve Hutchins, a civil engineer employed by Solito, admitted that their plans would increase the impervious surface on the property by 3 percent, which usually would aggravate flooding slightly.

However, Hutchins revealed that the current set of plans call for five submerged gravel ponds. Those ponds will act as caches for stormwater and Hutchins explained that in most storm situations, they will reduce the peak rate of runoff by about 50 percent.

“The design is actually quite conservative,” he told Irving.

In the case of the largest rain events, often called 100-year storms, Hutchins admitted that the ponds would fill and would not reduce runoff. However, he promised that even in that extreme of a scenario the Depot would not contribute to flooding.

“It won’t actually be better, but it won’t be worse,” Hutchins said.

To further assure Solito’s potential neighbors, Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward explained that a civil engineer employed directly by the town would double check all of Hutchins’ work.

“There’s another check and balance,” he said.

The other worry mentioned by several neighbors is the condition of the roads around the depot. Ward noted that there is noticeable wear and tear on Nelson St. but that the traffic generated by the Depot would only have a minimal impact. Additionally, Ward told the audience that town officials have been looking for ways to address stormwater and road deterioration in general, especially in the last few months.

“The Mayor and Council take a very serious approach to repairing streets,” Ward said.

Ward also mentioned an ongoing stormwater survey being conducted by the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center. The study will attempt to prioritize which parts of the town suffer the most from stormwater and will recommend solutions. According to Ward, while the survey is still being examined, Nelson St. has been acknowledged as a hotspot.

Members of the audience were asked if they had any concerns about the building itself. They unanimously did not.

The commission did maintain questions from the first meeting earlier this month. At that time, they asked Solito to address problems with ingresses and egresses, sidewalks, and to show what the property would look like with a planned expansion, which would bump the building up to 50,000 square feet, among other things.

Commissioner Barb Stack said she viewed the property as quite crowded, especially if the expansion is ever added.

“I still have concerns to see the site be so heavily developed,” she told Solito.

Commissioner Ron Cascio was unhappy with the plainness of the exterior of the building. He acknowledged that Solito had a limited budget, but didn’t believe that justified ignoring the aesthetics of the property.

“We’re being asked, because of the applicants limitations, to disregard part of our task,” he said.

Casio admitted, though, that the commission doesn’t have the “muzzle” to force Solito to add much in the way of decorative architecture to the building. He was also influenced by the fact Solito’s potential neighbors had no issues with the aesthetics of the design.

“It looks so much better than what is there right now,” Truitt said.
The commission voted 5-1, with Stack opposed, to grant site plan approval.