Habitat Eyes Berlin Mixed-Use Development

BERLIN – A new Habitat for Humanity project in downtown Berlin could provide housing and retail space as well as annual income for the organization.

On Monday, the Berlin Town Council agreed to support plans presented by Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County to pursue financial assistance from the state to develop a Washington Street property. Officials from the nonprofit outlined plans for a 6,000-square-foot mixed use development that would include retail space and apartments.

“The idea is to get into projects like this so we can be sustainable,” said Lauren Bunting, vice president of Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County’s board of directors.

According to Andrea Bowland, the nonprofit’s executive director, the organization is seeking funding from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to purchase a piece of land on Washington Street, demolish the structure that’s currently there and design a mixed-use development. Bowland said her organization had plans for a six-unit development that would consist of retail space at the street level topped by apartments. Bowland said the idea was to sell the apartments to artists who could then rent the retail space below.

“That’s the ideal situation,” she said. “We envision this as an opportunity for artists in the community to be able to come in and both live and work there. We see this tying in with the Arts and Entertainment District and Berlin as a whole.”

The apartments would provide local artists with affordable homeownership options while the retail space would enable them to pursue their craft.

“Habitat would maintain the retail,” Bunting said. “That’s a source of funding for us. The apartment would be the homeowner purchasing.”

She said this would enable Habitat for Humanity to have a steady stream of income that would make it easier for the nonprofit to fund future projects.

“Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County has always only been able to do one project a year,” Bunting said.

Councilman Thom Gulyas asked whether there would be deed restrictions involved. Bunting said there would not be, but that Habitat for Humanity would gear advertisements for the project toward artists.

Mayor Gee Williams said he thought the project would fit in in Berlin and at the same time would provide would-be residents with affordable choices.

“Let’s face it not everybody starting a business is going to start with a lot of money flowing,” he said. “This allows them to build their business and go from someone who had minimum means to becoming very self-sufficient.”

Councilmember Lisa Hall also offered praise for the project.

“It’s a great idea,” she said. “That’s what Sustainable Maryland is looking for.”

The council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution in support of Habitat for Humanity’s funding application to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. This would be Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County’s first mixed use project.

“I’d love to see us as a community trying new things,” Williams said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.