BERLIN – A local developer’s purchase of a long vacant lot at one of Berlin’s entrances could bring more retail and apartment space to the town.
Developer John Derrickson says he plans to build retail space with apartments above it on the one-acre lot at the intersection of North Main Street and Old Ocean City Boulevard. He bought the long vacant parcel, which in the past has been home to several restaurants, last month.
“I want to do what’s right for the town,” he said.
Derrickson approached Berlin’s planning commission Wednesday to ask for its advice on the project. He said he’d hired the local firm Design Resources but didn’t want to begin plans until he had an idea of what the planning commission wanted to see built, as the project would not be able to move forward at all without its approval.
“I just really need guidance from you guys,” he said.
Derrickson said in talking to local politicians he’d learned they wanted to see housing and commercial space. The parcel’s existing zoning would allow for a building with retail on the ground floor and apartments above.
“I don’t want to recreate this wheel,” he said, adding that he’d like to begin work on the site, which he has spent the past week cleaning up, in the spring. “I’d like to complement the other businesses. We’re all in this together.”
Commission member John Barrett told Derrickson to simply develop a plan for the site that he thought would work. He said area residents would be excited to see any improvement to the vacant lot.
“I think it’ll be a great project,” he said.
Berlin Councilmember Lisa Hall, who was in the audience at the planning commission, agreed. She praised Derrickson’s other Berlin projects on Route 113 — John’s Auto Body and Pitt Stop.
“You do nice work,” she said.
She added that she thought more developers should approach the planning commission informally, before plans were drawn.
“I think it’s a good idea for someone to come in and have an open conversation,” she said, adding developers could save time and money if they knew what planning commission members thought from the start. “We all want to do what’s best for Berlin.”
Derrickson said he decided to buy the corner parcel because he’d always liked it and thought it would give him a presence on the north end of town, as his other projects are just to the south. He said that while he hasn’t finalized which businesses would be involved in the retail portion of the project he’d like to see a mix of both national and local stores.
“It’ll be something family oriented,” he said.
He said he was interested in putting apartments above the retail because Berlin continued to grow.
“Everything’s rented,” he said of the existing living space. “We need some nice apartments. The Town of Berlin is growing.”
Derrickson said he was open to suggestions for the site but was determined to erect a “nice building” that would be a good fit for the town.
The former site to several restaurants, most notably Bowden’s, nearly became a LaHacienda Mexican restaurant many years ago when the Ocean City-based operation was looking to add a second location in Berlin. However, design disagreements between the town’s planners and the developer led to the effort being withdrawn. Last December a foreclosure auction was scrapped at the site as a result of low bids.