Berlin Planning Comm. Tables Decision On 126-Unit Apartment Development

Berlin Planning Comm. Tables Decision On 126-Unit Apartment Development
Faced with concerns from neighboring townhome owners, the Berlin Planning Commission delayed approval of a 126-apartment development plan. Submitted Photo

BERLIN – The town’s planning commission delayed a decision on apartments proposed for the Purnell Crossing development in the wake of community concerns.

When the Berlin Planning Commission met Wednesday to discuss a request to modify the Purnell Crossing planned unit development (PUD), they were greeted with a roomful of irate townhouse owners. After giving the Purnell Crossing residents the chance to speak, commission members tabled the request and encouraged the developer to communicate with those concerned.

“I’d like to see the developer get with this community association and talk a little bit and see if you can’t reach some kind of compromise,” commission member Pete Cosby said.

Troy Purnell of TPGP LLC presented the commission with the request to modify the PUD, which is currently set up to allow for assisted living and townhouses. He said that because there was no market for assisted living or townhouses at the moment, he wanted instead to adjust the PUD to allow for construction of 126 apartments. The project would be done by Justin White’s Live Oak Home Builders.

White told the commission the project would include five buildings — four 24-unit buildings and one 30-unit building — as well as a clubhouse and pool. As proposed, three apartment buildings would be located at the end of Sunlight Lane, which will be turned into a cul-de-sac, while the clubhouse and two apartment buildings would be located just west of the existing townhouses, closer to Route 346.

Purnell, who serves on the Berlin Town Council, stressed that the density of the new proposal was no greater than the density of the prior assisted living proposal.

“The R-4 zone is a multi-family zone,” he said.

When asked why he was pursuing the change, Purnell said it was because of the market.

“It seems like there’s demand based on what we see at Oceans East,” Purnell said.

When commission members questioned the proximity of the proposed apartments to the existing Purnell Crossing townhomes, architect Keith Iott confirmed that the apartments would be closer than the initially proposed assisted living would have been. He said there would be about 40 feet between the townhouses and the new buildings.

Commission member Newt Chandler suggested reconfiguring the layout of the new development so it wouldn’t impact the existing townhouses so much.

“That’s a big change to those people’s lives,” he said.

White indicated he thought the layout shown Wednesday was the best option.

“I think at any point it’s going to cause somewhat of a concern,” he said. “I feel this would be the quieter of the two options.”

Commission member John Barrett echoed Chandler’s concern and suggested a shadow study be done to gauge the new buildings’ impact on the townhouses.

Chandler said he wanted to ensure the apartments would not eventually become subsidized housing. White said the rent would be comparable to what was charged at Oceans East, in the $1,400 to $2,000 range.

“As you know the road to hell was paved with good intentions …,” Chandler said. “I don’t want to be living here and pointing over there saying there was another shooting at the projects last night.”

White said there was a demand for high-end apartments, exhibited by the fact that there was a one-year wait on two-bedroom apartments at Oceans East.

“The concept of higher end will stay,” he said. “I have no intentions of Section 8.”

Commission member Ron Cascio said the commission needed to consider what impact the proposed apartments would have on the town’s wastewater treatment plant. He said he also wanted to see a shade study and had concerns about property tax implications.

Instead of a total of 49 townhouses and 100 assisted living units originally proposed in the PUD, the project would now consist of the existing 27 townhouses and 126 apartments. Mark Cropper, Purnell’s attorney, reminded the commission that there was no market for more townhouses.

“If the market’s not there for it, it’ll never get built and you won’t get any tax revenue,” he said.

Purnell added that tax revenue would be based on assessed value.

“This is going to cost about $19 million,” he said. “That’s what the assessment’s going to be based on.”

Numerous Purnell Crossing homeowners told the commission they objected to Purnell’s plans. Ruby Halligan said residents had just learned of the proposal, which she referred to as appalling, on Monday.

Halligan said she worked in property management and knew that there would be issues when townhouse residents had concerns about the apartments. She added that parking at Purnell Crossing was already a problem and she expected it to worsen if apartments were built.

Purnell Crossing resident Sharra Watson expressed concern about the traffic impact the apartments would have.

“The impact is not just for Purnell Crossing it’s for everyone on Route 346,” she said.

She said she and her neighbors had purchased their homes and they were an investment for them.

“Who’s going to compensate the homeowners for the loss in property value?” she said.

Commission members pointed out that Purnell Crossing had been a PUD all along and had been slated for additional development. Watson said residents were aware of that but had always thought the project would include more townhouses.

Resident Lisa Doyle said the community was currently very quiet and safe, something she feared would now change.

“I ask you to think about the detrimental effect 100 rentals can have on 27 townhomes and the people who proudly live in them,” she said.

Cosby replied that if the currently approved assisted living facility was built the neighbors would have to deal with what was essentially a commercial use.

Doyle said she still thought assisted living was more secure than a community made up of rental apartments, where there would be transient residents.

“It’s a wonderful community,” she said. “Peaceful and quiet. This would ruin it.”

Several other residents agreed and stressed that they’d all been led to believe the future development on the site would consist of townhomes.

“I’m thoroughly disgusted about the whole thing,” Gail Cowles said. “We’ve been misinformed about a lot of things over the years.”

Others expressed concern about school bus traffic the new development would bring in as well as the array of signage associated with rental apartments. One woman asked why single family homes weren’t being considered for the land.

“Whoever comes to him with a project that has the money is who he’s going to be talking to,” Barrett said.

Resident Matthew Stoehr pointed out that this was the only chance the townhouse owners had to voice their concerns. He said they’d have no leverage once the commission approved the project.

“I would just ask that the board make sure to try to protect our little community as much as they can because when this ball gets rolling our 27 little townhouses will get run over…” he said. “We need as much up front, in writing, taken care of to try to protect us.”

Chris Denny, chairman of the commission, asked Purnell and White how long they’d been working on the project.

“I imagine it was before Monday,” he said.

White said he’d submitted the plans and documents as the town dictated. He said there was just no market for townhouses now. Purnell said the original townhouses in Purnell Crossing had been priced at $390,000.

“If that was the case today you’d see this completed,” he said.

Commission members agreed that the developer needed to meet with the Purnell Crossing residents. Cosby said the commission would be faced with a difficult decision.

“The Oceans East project was hard for us to digest and I’ve been disappointed with what I’ve heard about the quality of construction,” he said.

He added, however, that people needed places to live.

“Where should we put these kind of large apartment buildings?” he said. “That’s what we have to struggle with. It’s not an easy thing for us to do. We want to be reasonable.”

The commission voted 6-0 to table the proposal for further review.

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.