Planning Commission Concerned About New Berlin Dollar General Design

BERLIN – Planning commission members criticized plans for a new Dollar General store but agreed to grant developers preliminary approval so the project could move forward.

The commission approved the preliminary site plan for the 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store but told representatives from Oxford Chase Development that the building’s appearance would need to be improved before it would receive final site plan approval.

“I’m looking at a picture of this building and it’s a nightmare,” Planning Commission member Pete Cosby said. “I want Dollar General in Berlin. I don’t want this building.”

Discussion of the plans for the new store, which is proposed for the corner of Route 113 and Old Ocean City Boulevard, got off to a heated start when several planning commission members criticized the paperwork that was presented to the commission. They said the plans were not printed on large enough paper and were impossible to read.

“I can’t read anything,” commission member Ron Cascio said. “Until we’re able to review a full set of plans, I can’t comment.”

Dave Engelhart, Berlin’s planning director, apologized for the miscommunication regarding the size of the plans. Howard Crossan, president of Oxford Chase Development, assured commission members the plans would be printed on larger paper when the project was submitted for final site plan approval. He stressed the need to move the process along so the new building would be ready before the lease at the existing Dollar General space, located across Route 113 in the Food Lion shopping center, expired.

Cosby said he was concerned with the project as presented because the building would look like a flat box.

“There are some things that could be done here,” he said.

Crossan’s architect agreed that some detail work could be done to the building to improve its appearance. Cosby said he wouldn’t support the project’s final site plan unless improvements were made.

“I will not vote to support a building that looks like this whether I’m right or wrong,” he said. “We’re trying to make this town special. Dollar General is a great business. There’s no reason you can’t do some things to make this building work. Berlin has a reputation it’s trying to protect.”

Crossan said costs were a limiting factor in the building’s design but assured the commission he would make some changes to his proposal before submitting it for final approval. He stressed, however, that the process needed to keep moving forward.

“I can’t stretch this out for six months because the deal’s going to die,” he said, adding that the additional money wouldn’t be invested into the design unless it had preliminary approval.

Cascio said he understood the project’s time constraints but that timing was not the town’s problem.

“I’m really not comfortable with this design,” he said.

Some commission members also criticized the proposed yellow and black Dollar General sign. Crossan said the company would not change the colors of the sign but that he could ensure that it was a low, monument style sign to minimize its impact.

In response to landscaping concerns, Oxford Chase Development Vice President John Camp again referenced cost constraints.

“We get a budget we have to live within,” he said.

Cosby pointed out that the town earlier this month added language about commercial architectural standards into the code to protect the town’s character and ensure it remained unique.

“If you make it so restrictive they can’t build, you’ll never get there,” Crossan replied.

Commission members eventually voted 5-1-1 to give the project preliminary site plan approval. Commission members Barb Stack voted against the motion to move the project forward while Cascio abstained.

Following the Dollar General presentation, commission members agreed to hold a work session in early February to begin developing the commercial architectural design standards alluded to by the code changes made in early January.

“I’m so frustrated because we say we’re going to do it and we don’t,” Stack said, pointing out that the commission had been putting off the task for too long.

Cascio agreed and pointed to the intersection of Route 113 and Old Ocean City Boulevard with its hodgepodge of buildings as an example of why it was needed.

“It got crappy one building a time,” he said. “It’s only going to get better one building at a time.”

Berlin Councilwoman Lisa Hall said she was concerned about all the development projects looming in Berlin’s future, particularly at the Old Ocean City Boulevard intersection.

“We really need to pay attention to what we’re building,” she said. “That is a busy, dangerous corner. A Dollar General store on that location is going against everything suggested by Walkable Bikeable Berlin and the pedestrian safety committee.”