BERLIN – With site plan approval from the Berlin Planning Commission last week, developers of the apartment complex proposed for Seahawk Road say construction could begin as soon as the spring.
Blair Rinnier of Rinnier Development said that though the project — known as Oceans East — still needed approval from the State Highway Administration and the Maryland Department of the Environment, he hoped construction would begin in early spring. Members of the Berlin Planning Commission gave the project their approval — contingent on the town council’s support of a related text amendment — last Wednesday. They were optimistic that the widening of Seahawk Road that would come with the project would benefit the community.
“I think the roadway is going to be a huge help to the school system,” commission member John Barrett said.
Rinnier, who has been looking toward development of the Seahawk Road site for years, plans to build a 700-plus unit apartment community across from Stephen Decatur Middle School. This month’s approval from the planning commission is for the roughly 150-unit first phase of the project. The initial phase will include construction of a community clubhouse, pool, pond, park and garages in addition to the apartments.
At the request of the planning commission, the development will also include space for a public greenway.
“It’s good planning and we hope we can help you set the precedent,” engineer Brock Parker said.
To accommodate the substantial project, Rinnier will be increasing the width of Seahawk Road.
“Seahawk Road is being widened to four and in some places a five-lane highway,” Parker said.
In addition, the apartment complex will feature just one entrance that will be accessible only to vehicles coming from the direction of Route 50. Cars leaving the community will be diverted toward Route 50 as well to prevent generating more traffic on Flower Street.
“How are we going to keep people from turning left [toward Flower Street]?” commission member Pete Cosby said.
Parker said the entrance to the project was not perpendicular with Seahawk Road and that the only way someone could leave the project and turn left would be by making a U-turn.
“We’re channeling them to Route 50,” Parker said.
Cosby also asked whether a stacking of vehicles could occur. Parker replied that the project would include a 175-foot turn lane to make sure that didn’t happen. He added that the company was only seeking approval for the first phase of the project now and that the planning commission would have opportunities to review the project as each phase went forward.
Barrett said Seahawk Road was already “a mess” and he thought the alterations coming with the apartment complex would improve the situation.
“It’s going to be a huge change,” he said.
The commission voted 3-1, with Barb Stack opposed, to approve the project.
In spite of the planning commission’s support of the project, Rinnier and his associates will return to the commission next month seeking approval of a text amendment related to the apartments. The site plan approved Wednesday includes a number of 24-unit apartment buildings as well as a 36-unit building. The town code says apartment buildings must include 12 units or less. To allow the project to move forward, Rinnier’s attorney has proposed a text amendment that would give the planning commission the power to allow buildings to include more than 12 units in cases where it would improve the project.
Cropper said permitting larger buildings at Oceans East would maximize the amount of open space. He said the text amendment he drafted would leave the 12-unit limit in the code but would allow the planning commission to deviate from that when it saw fit.
“It was tailored from your code for your code while retaining the limitations of your code,” he said of the amendment.
The planning commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed text amendment in September and will then make a recommendation of whether to approve it or not to the Berlin Town Council.
Last Wednesday the planning commission also voted 3-1 (with Stack opposed) to grant final site plan approval to the Arby’s and Royal Farms proposed for the intersection of Route 50 and Friendship Road.