Optimism For Proposed Seahawk Road Project

BERLIN — A major proposed development for Seahawk Road in Berlin has supporters from elected leaders, while the community plans to keep a close eye on its progressions through the planning stages.
Improvement to the property will be helmed by Rinnier Development Company (RDC). Based in Salisbury, RDC is proposing a dual residential-commercial development for the section of Seahawk Road adjacent to Stephen Decatur High and Middle schools. The company recently purchased 120 acres across from the schools and is considering adding a connecting parcel if officials can find a few interested major retailers who would like to rent the space. In addition to roughly 375,000 square feet of commercial space, RDC looks to eventually construct about 900 apartment units on the site as well, though completion of that may could be more than a decade out.
Reactions to the proposal so far seem positive. Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said that he views the expansion of commercial and residential prospects in the area as “natural growth” for the town.
“Definitely the town feels this is a very natural and expected next stage of development, particularly both residential and commercial development in the town of Berlin,” said the mayor. “The potential development of this property, regardless of who eventually would do it, is one of the many reasons we spent the time, effort and money to upgrade our wastewater treatment plant and why we’re upgrading our infrastructure in all manner of things.”
Any extensive growth on Seahawk Road will almost certainly lead to the property being annexed into the town, which Williams and County Commission President Bud Church both expect. The annexation means the development is a Berlin issue and less of a county matter, but Church was still willing to show initial support for the proposal he has heard from RDC.
“I’m not opposed to growth if it’s done in a proper area and it’s done to a standard that’s above average,” said Church. “And I think these developers will do it to a standard that’s above average and do it right. If they can please the neighborhood and meet the county standards, I really don’t have much of an objection to it.”
Church explained that some of his support comes from the reputation that RDC enjoys locally. The company has an extensive background in both residential and commercial development.
“The developers are first-class developers. I’m very familiar with a number of their projects,” said Church. “The plus is, whatever they do, they do right.”
Williams felt likewise, saying that Rinnier has an “excellent regional reputation,” a point that resident Gabe Purnell echoed.
“The developer, I understand, has a pretty good track record,” he said.
However, unlike Williams and Church, Purnell does harbor some concerns about such a major change along Seahawk Road. So many new apartments and large retailers will certainly mean more traffic in the area, which Purnell said worries himself and neighbors.
“It’s going to be more traffic most definitely coming down the road,” he said.
The traffic will be just a by-product of a development boom, noted Purnell, and having all of those new businesses and apartments come to the area is bound to have an effect. But Purnell admitted that he’s come to accept that the space would eventually get used.
“We can’t stop progress. I don’t care how hard you try; you’re not going to stop it,” he said. “So it’s going to change our neighborhood but that’s the way life is.”
Instead of viewing the change as entirely negative, Purnell did admit that residents look forward to having some new apartment options as well as expanded shopping and entertainment. A retail boost should also mean more jobs, he added.
“Hopefully, there will be some good jobs that will reach the needs of some of the people in the area,” Purnell said. “Definitely there are going to be some positives: jobs and housing.”
With the traffic, Purnell continued, he takes some solace in the promises made by RDC to widen Seahawk Road and to structure retail ingress and egress so that shoppers won’t be tempted to flood the small, residential streets nearby but will instead use Seahawk Road and US Route 50.
Many residents in town are looking forward to the development eagerly, claimed Williams, and none of the business owners he has spoken with are worried about competition from big retailers.
“I can see this being nothing but another major step in the town’s evolution as a successful economic engine for the area,” said the mayor.
A timeline for when Rinnier will begin work on Seahawk Road is still hazy and has to go through permitting and annexation before shovels ever get near dirt. Williams hopes that this will be the start of a trend that will see the “gateways” into Berlin, including Seahawk Road, Old Ocean City Boulevard and Route 818 (Main Street), developed into the next decade.