BERLIN – The apartment complex proposed for Seahawk Road will proceed as originally planned with the town’s approval of legislation associated with the project.
Ocean’s East, the apartment complex planned by developer Blair Rinnier for Seahawk Road, is now moving ahead with the Berlin Town Council’s approval of a text amendment that will allow the buildings to exceed the town’s 12-unit size limit.
“I hope to proceed through the design submittal and approval process over the next six months and break ground in the summer of 2016,” Rinnier said, “with the first apartments opening in the summer of 2017.”
Rinnier has long been talking about building apartments on Seahawk Road. Earlier this year, he received site plan approval for the first 150-unit phase of the potentially 700-unit project. That approval, however, was contingent on the town’s passage of a text amendment that would permit the apartment buildings to house more than 12 units, as his plan showed 24- and 36-unit buildings. The text amendment, created by Rinnier’s attorney Mark Cropper with input from Town of Berlin attorney Dave Gaskill, says that when “public necessity, convenience, general welfare and good zoning practice” will be better served by buildings with more than 12 units, the planning commission “may allow a multi-family building to consist of up to, but not to exceed, 36 units as determined on a case by case basis.”
Cropper said that though the first phase of the project had been approved with the larger buildings, Rinnier would have to seek the planning commission’s approval for each future phase. The commission, therefore, would have an opportunity to decide whether or not to allow larger buildings as it considered each phase.
“This legislation merely gives them the ability to do it,” Cropper said. “It doesn’t guarantee it.”
On Monday Rinnier told the town council that creating an apartment complex of 24- and 36-unit buildings would enable him to leave more open space. He plans to erect the apartments around a large central pond with a fountain, something several of his other developments include.
“It sounds nice,” he said. “It looks nice.”
Rinnier said that design would not be possible if he were forced to stick to 12-unit buildings, as additional buildings would take up the project’s open space. He explained that he’d incorporated a 36-unit building into the mix because it would have an elevator, something the smaller buildings would not. An elevator would make the apartments in that building accessible to seniors. Area residents have advocated for more senior housing.
“That was a big part of the strategic planning sessions,” Cropper said.
During the public hearing on the text amendment, Berlin resident Zack Tyndall questioned the precedent this project would be setting.
“We could very easily see several 36- unit buildings,” he said.
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said that was possible but he didn’t expect development to proceed at that rate.
“That would be beyond optimistic,” he said. “That would be a go-go-go growth of development.”
He added that apartments such as the ones Rinnier had planned were needed in the area, as it wasn’t always economically feasible for young families or senior citizens to purchase single family homes in downtown Berlin. Williams said future growth in Berlin was something that the community would have to weigh in on as time went by. He said he did not believe the growth the town had experienced in recent years had diminished the quality of life for town residents.
“We can find a balance,” he said. “We have a responsibility to have these discussions and not pre-judge.”
The council voted 3-1, with Council member Lisa Hall opposed, to approve the text amendment.