Berlin May Grow To The East By Annexing Seahawk Road Property

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners signaled neither support nor opposition to a proposed annexation of property on Seahawk Road into the town of Berlin. That was all that the company behind the annexation was looking for, however, according to attorney Mark Cropper.
“We want to know that we’re not wasting our time,” said Cropper, who represents 9828 Seahawk Road, LLC.
The company is looking to develop property east of Seahawk Road and south of Route 50. All told, it would be about 120 acres and the plan is to develop it as a mixed residential and retail use.
The town of Berlin has already gotten behind the annexation and written a letter of support to the County Commission. The commission, however, held off on diving into the situation until more information can be gathered and the impact to the community, including nearby Stephen Decatur High and Middle Schools can be gauged. There is also some concern over traffic and how a service road might be able to alleviate some of that.
“I wouldn’t be ready to go without all of the other documentation,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “And I’m concerned, too, about our service road because, as you point out, we’ve put a lot of time and energy and money into that as a vision for the county.”
Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting, noted that the annexation request as it stands has not followed “typical protocol,” and has not included things like backup material and surveys of the property. That kind of information is critical in whether the commission will give the proposal its blessing, said Commissioner Virgil Shockley. The commissioners do not want to approach the project blind.
“There are a lot of things that have to be proven,” he said.
Cropper acknowledged all of this and reiterated that his client is at this point simply making sure that the commission isn’t outright opposed to the idea.
“In order for this project to proceed as planned, which necessitates the annexation and change of zoning classifications described above, the Worcester County Commissioners must consent,” wrote Cropper in a letter to the commission. “Otherwise, the project could be delayed for as much as five years.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting asked that a draft plan with all of the information that Tudor mentioned be submitted before anything moves forward. He also is interested in how residents in the area feel about the annexation. The effect on the schools especially needs to be predicted in Bunting’s opinion. Any development would bring increased traffic to the area. The developers have committed to a service road and other traffic calming, however, and Cropper stressed that his clients are out in the community having conversations.
“As part of our due diligence, we met with many stakeholders, including but not limited to, certain members of the Berlin Town and Council, the Worcester County Board of Education, people that live and work in close proximity to the project and others who work for the Worcester County government,” he wrote.
Tudor underlined the importance of having a solid annexation agreement in place. While he wouldn’t expect anyone to back out on commitments made, an annexation agreement would make sure that all of those commitments were plainly laid out and mandatory. The commission told Cropper that they aren’t fundamentally opposed to the annexation, but weren’t willing to offer any support until the information was all in line.
“It’s like anything else. You get the chance to prove your case,” said Shockley.
Cropper will return with the necessary documentation to follow protocol.