The petition effort to take an annexation in Berlin to referendum is in the final stretch.
Back on May 28, the town council approved in a 4-1 vote a proposed annexation of six acres of land near the intersection of Main Street and Route 50. The property, which was formerly home to some residences and a vehicle junkyard, will be redeveloped and include a new 7-Eleven concept convenience store.
With the deadline looming next week, the petition must have 700 verified signatures from registered voters to be successful. Generally, there is about a 20% rejection rate for signatures on a petition. The signers could be from out of town or they could have not signed their name as it’s officially listed on the voter rolls. Since there’s a host of reasons why a signature could be rejected during the elections board’s review, a successful petition drive is a tall order.
Whether well-intention citizen Jeff Smith and like-minded volunteers will meet the mark to stall the annexation and bring it before voters for a special election is unknown. We should know by the end of this month whether the petition will send the matter to the voters to decide. Smith wants town voters to have a say on this matter rather than just letting the elected officials make the decision.
“My goal is to get the signatures so we can start the dialogue,” Smith said. “… The town has designed itself now so that in order to break even we have to keep growing. If we continue on this path, growing recklessly and without a vision, we’re going to turn into Salisbury.”
As a counter, property owner Spiro Buas maintains the annexation will benefit Berlin. “Either way I do something there. It makes sense for the town to control the look to one of the entrances to Berlin,” Buas said. “Today’s modern convenience store, to be competitive, is not the stores of the past. Right now, Berlin doesn’t have that.”
While we admire citizen advocacy and embrace the petition process, we would like to see this annexation move forward. We believe even if the petition is successful town voters will support the annexation in a special election, which could cost as much as $3,000 for the town.
While not all annexations deserve to advance, we believe this particular land grab makes sense. The parcel is included in the town’s designated growth area and properties all around it are already within town limits. It has the support of the town’s planning commission and is labeled as an area prime for redevelopment many years ago. Additionally, utility service connections will be funded by the developer.
The annexation will also result in increased taxes for the town of Berlin as well as the monthly utility rates the property owner will pay. There was nothing positive for the town with this parcel outside of municipal limits. It has been an eyesore at a main entrance to town for many years. Since it was outside the town’s boundaries, there was nothing officials could be to impose sanctions on the property owner for letting it become a blight.
We view this annexation as an overall positive for the town. There are financial and aesthetic benefits. In the end, we believe the new project will be better than what has been on the site for the last decade.