Berlin Planning Commission To Tackle Design Standards

BERLIN – Members of the Berlin Planning Commission have again reaffirmed their commitment to the development and adoption of commercial design standards for the town.

Though the need for design standards has been discussed for years, efforts to actually develop them have failed more than once. On Wednesday, the commission agreed to put the topic on the agenda for next month’s meeting.

“We’ve discussed it many times,” said Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director. “We know we need to do something.”

Engelhart advised the commission to approach the project one of two ways. He suggested commissioners form a subcommittee to study the standards other municipalities had in place or that they try to hire a consultant to do the work. He said standards would prove important as growth in Berlin continued.

“To me it’s the biggest hole we have in our armor as far as ordinances and how to protect and guide the growth we’re probably headed for in the future,” Engelhart said.

Engelhart pointed out that the town had annexed property along the Route 50 corridor, which is where growth was ideal, but that standards would be critical in guiding that growth.

“That’s where we said we want it but we still want to be able to control it,” he said.

Engelhart told the commissioners he’d spoken to officials from the Maryland Department of Planning and they’d given him a list of towns in the state that already had commercial design standards. He said the commission could create a subcommittee to study those towns’ standards and come up with something similar for Berlin.

Commissioner John Barrett said he thought that would be a good start.

“Creating something from scratch is difficult, time consuming and expensive,” he said. “It’s been three or four years and we just keep going around in a circle. Somebody’s got to be doing it right.”

Commissioner Ron Cascio asked why previous efforts to develop standards had failed. Engelhart said that when the town had tried to hire a professional for the task, the company selected had backed out. Earlier this year, when Commissioner Pete Cosby was working on adapting the county’s standards into something the town could use, differing opinions brought the project to a gradual stop.

“I’m not going to waste my time unless everybody comes to a consensus,” Cosby said.

Cosby, an attorney, stressed the need for the commission to get something on the books.

“Even if you don’t get it perfect at least you have an enforcement mechanism,” he said. “Now we’re just negotiating in good faith.”

Cascio said applicants too wanted to see standards adopted so they’d know what was expected in Berlin.

“They want to know what the deal is,” he said.

Cascio said he was willing to support having a subcommittee study other codes but thought a professional would still be needed at some point because the commission didn’t have sufficient professional knowledge.

After continued discussion, the commissioners agreed to all take a look at Cosby’s adaptation of the county standards at the next meeting to see if a document that would suffice for Berlin could be created.

“Let’s get it done,” Cosby 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.