Proposed Berlin Housing Development Moves Ahead

BERLIN — A preliminary site plan for the 44-unit Cannery Village housing development was conditionally approved this week by the Berlin Planning Commission.

This week also marked the first time public comments have ever been made regarding the proposed development, which will be located off Flower Street on Cannery Way. Concerns were raised about supervision, management and the impact on local property values, but Osprey Property Company, who is developing the site, answered the majority of questions to the audience’s satisfaction.

Cannery Village is an uncommon proposal for Berlin — a rental community where the units will become available for purchase by their tenants after 15 years. At this week’s Planning Commission meeting, Andrew Hanson, vice president of Osprey, further reviewed the proposed development following an initial work session last month.

The 44-unit, 25-acre development would include both two- and four-bedroom housing options. Though the make-up of the village will be done in a similar style all around, Hanson promised the commission that it will not be a cookie-cutter development but instead a series of distinctive homes that renters will want to make their own when they become available for purchase.

“We will do our best to make them attractive but have their own unique character and personality,” he said.

Like last month, the commission was generally favorable in their review of the development but did have design concerns.

“Personally, I just don’t think these work. They don’t really portray the form of housing that has historically been in Berlin, the form of the details done. But that’s not your fault,” said Commissioner Ron Cascio. “We are not doing a good job of relaying to applicants what it is we want.”

The commission made a number of minor alteration suggestions and asked Hanson to keep the town in mind while working to develop the Cannery concept. Besides the commissioners, comments from the public were heard for the first time on the project.

Resident Mallory Eckman approached Hanson with a list of her personal concerns about Cannery. The fact that it was an affordable housing development caused her some worry as she told Hanson she has seen those sorts of projects morph into unexpected entities in the past.

“I know it’s affordable housing, I think that’s great, but I want to make sure that affordable housing doesn’t drop into low-income housing like it has over at Decatur Farms where they have sections that are now Section 8,” she said.

That led her to worry about a potential decline in neighboring property values including her own. Other issues she mentioned were with how Osprey will handle property management, tenant supervision and tenant eviction.

Commissioner Pete Cosby vouched for Osprey’s record as far as property management goes, telling Eckman that the company is “professional” in handling things such as property supervision and tenant removal when there are grounds for eviction. But the Cannery project should be special in that they aren’t just rental properties but potential new homes for people who move in and follow the rules and then decide to buy when the option becomes available, said Hanson.

“We tried to come up with something that would make sense, we tried to put in storage, we tried to make it so that folks could grow into these homes,” he said.

Additionally, while it is affordable housing, there is no intention to slide to low income or Section 8. Instead, the housing is affordable to give those who might otherwise struggle to ever own a home a unique chance to earn the opportunity. And that means that, at least in the other similar projects Osprey has managed, tenants tend to act more like members of the community than temporary passersby, claimed Hanson.

“We want our folks to be good neighbors and encourage them and part of the incentive here is that these folks have to pass the criminal, the credit,” he said. “They have to make enough money but not too much money with the potential to become a homeowner … so here’s a chance to move into a beautiful new home and many of them well make it theirs from the beginning.”

Eckman told the commission that her anxieties were eased.

“Obviously I have my concerns but a lot of them have been answered above and beyond what you can expect,” she said.

As the project develops, Eckman plans to keep an eye on it and believes her neighbors will as well. She told the commission that all she wants is for Berlin to maintain the same level of quality control that it has for the past several years.

“We’re the coolest small town and we kind of want to stay the coolest small town,” she said.

The commission agreed and unanimously granted Osprey preliminary approval on the submitted site plan with a few conditions, such as wanting to review the forestation and buffer plans as well as design moving forward to make sure that everything lines up with comments offered.