It’s been less than two years since Berlin took first place in an online poll celebrating its small town charm, but it’s clear this victory is one of the biggest developments in the town’s history.
Claiming the title of America’s Coolest Small Town, an honor bestowed by Budget Travel through online voting, has brought Berlin an unprecedented level of commerce as well as notoriety. The free exposure has brought more visitors to town than ever before and continues to be a big deal.
Additionally, it’s become quite apparent of late that the poll along with the uniqueness of the historic town and burgeoning special events has opened the town up to what will likely be an unprecedented building boom in future years. The resulting growth will swell the town’s population over the next couple decades.
Whether that’s a good thing or not is what needs to be at the heart of public and private conversations, as the town is at a critical crossroads now with hundreds of new residential units proposed for the near future.
There are several developments worthy of discussion. First is the 700-unit apartment community planned for Seahawk Road that will surely change the eastern side of town forever. The development continues to move ahead and the first phase of 150 units is close to securing all the approvals it needs from the town.
On the opposite end of the town, a major housing community is privately being planned on the west side of town where the Bay Club Golf Course is located. The Carl M. Freeman Companies is looking to develop a residential community at the Bay Club golf course with Schell Brothers carrying out the construction of as many as 300 high-end homes. Early plans sound like something similar to the Bayside community on Route 54, but most discussions have been preliminary to this point. What we do know is it would require town annexation of the property, meaning the town would have to grow its boundaries significantly.
While these projects may be in the future, the 44-home Cannery Village project just off Flower Street on the east side of Route 113 is well underway. This development is expected to be complete by early 2016.
These new residential projects deserve the attention of the community. Berlin must tread lightly here and its citizens must stay engaged. At strategic planning sessions last year, the citizens who attended expressed the importance of smart growth and not growing so fast that the town loses the appeal that has gained it such popularity.
These three new projects combined when completed will add at least 1,000 residents to Berlin if all goes as development projections go. That will be a 25-percent increase in population over what will probably be a 10- or 15-year period.
The prospect of that type of growth needs to be monitored. There will be ample opportunities for the public to follow these projects and the citizens need to be on their proverbial toes to form educated and rational decisions and to ensure these new developments do not adversely impact their quality of life as well as not stressing existing water, sewer and road infrastructure without proper compensation being taken into account.