Company Weighing Bay Club Property Redevelopment

Company Weighing Bay Club Property Redevelopment

BERLIN – A local developer is weighing options to turn the Bay Club into a high-end residential community.

Attorney Hugh Cropper, on behalf of the Carl M. Freeman Companies, approached Berlin Mayor Gee Williams to discuss the idea of redeveloping the 36-hole golf course on Libertytown Road. In an interview Thursday, Cropper said his client wanted to reduce it to an 18-hole course and incorporate some homes and light commercial facilities on the 460-acre parcel.

“Right now, we have no specific plans,” Cropper said. “We’re accumulating ideas and input.”

While the development is nothing but hypothetical at this point, Berlin’s mayor says it proves the town’s citizens need to start thinking about future growth.

“We need to decide how much, where, and what kind,” Williams said. “It’s not rocket science. It just sounds like a lot of homework needs to be done.”

According to Cropper, the Carl M. Freeman Companies wants to build moderate to high end homes in clusters throughout the golf course. The homes would be on large lots amid areas of woods.

Because the golf course is currently served by a septic system, Cropper said his client would want to purchase water and sewer service from the town or have the property annexed so it could be served by the town’s systems. He said either scenario would work for the developer.

“We’re open to discussion,” he said. “The Worcester County Comprehensive Plan suggests annexation is the preferred method but we’re at a very early stage. It’s just the beginning.”

To be annexed, however, the property needs to be contiguous to the town. That would mean all of the property between the town and the Bay Club would need to be annexed as well, according to Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director.

Several members of the Berlin Planning Commission expressed concern over the possibility during a meeting Wednesday. Commission member Ron Cascio pointed out that the entrance to the Bay Club was just under two miles from the Atlantic Hotel.

“Megalopolis is what it will be,” he said. “Is that what we want?”

Cascio said when development was proposed for the Bay Club 15 years ago, residents indicated it was too far from town to be included. He believes stretching the town out will diminish its charm.

“We’re going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” he said.

Planning commission member Pete Cosby said the golf course was past the green belt the town had included in its comprehensive plan. He said the town needed to make sure it maintained its unique character and high quality of life.

“One of the definitions of this town is its limited size,” he said.

Councilmember Lisa Hall, who said she first learned about the proposal when she started receiving calls from worried residents, has similar concerns. She doesn’t want to see Berlin become a “bedroom community” for Salisbury. She also pointed out that there were lots within the town’s existing boundaries that hadn’t been developed yet.

“I’m very concerned with the discussion even being had,” she said. “We just had strategic planning sessions where residents said they wanted to protect the small town charm of Berlin.”

She added that the town had also just recently annexed property along Seahawk Road for the construction of apartments as well as property at the intersection of Route 50 and Friendship Road where a Royal Farms is set to be built.

During Monday’s council meeting, the mayor stressed that he had not voiced support for the project but had simply listened to Cropper’s proposal.

“At this very early stage of discussion, if I were to have a vote, which I do not, I do not know where I would stand on this idea,” Williams said. “I can say without reservation I would be much more favorably inclined if the Bay Club was immediately contiguous to the town’s existing western boundary, but it is not.”

Williams did say that during the coming year he wanted the town’s leaders and residents to start considering future growth. He envisions a process with public meetings as well as presentations from planning professionals.

“I believe it is important to have a variety of highly qualified and reputable presenters who do not have a dog in the fight who can present predictable outcomes to the impacts of various growth options based on their expertise,” he said.

Like the strategic planning sessions, the process would encourage community involvement.

“The difference is that this is not just a wish list for services,” Williams said, “but needs to responsibly engage and inform citizens about the impacts to the town both in the short and long-term regarding the size, scale, direction, how much and where such growth should be encouraged and where it should be restricted.”

As for the Bay Club, Cropper said he simply presented the proposal to get the town’s input on the concept. While plans for the golf course property haven’t been set in stone, the Carl M. Freeman Companies does want to redevelop the site in the near future.

“We’re going to do something,” Cropper said.