BERLIN– Berlin leaders agreed to formally request a meeting with Worcester County officials following last week’s vote to move forward with a sports complex.
Members of the town council on Monday expressed their disappointment with the Worcester County Commissioners for not including the municipality in discussions regarding a sports complex proposed for property next to Stephen Decatur High School. Municipal leaders are worried about the negative impact the project will have on the town.
“When you say it’s great for the community, what community is it great for?” Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said. “Because it’s not great for my community.”
During a public hearing last Tuesday, Berlin Planning Director Dave Engelhart and Mayor Zack Tyndall were among the people who expressed concern regarding Worcester County’s plans to purchase 95 acers next to the high school for a sports complex. Following three hours of public comment, the Worcester County Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve moving forward with the purchase.
Engelhart this week urged the council to send the county a letter regarding the town’s desire to be involved in the process moving forward. Though the property is currently in the county, Engelhart said annexation into the town was likely because the project would probably need town water and sewer.
“Water and sewer is our leverage to make sure that we don’t get all the negative impact from this project—which is a wonderful project I don’t dispute it—but none of the positive impact,” he said.
He added that if the land was purchased by the county there would be no real estate taxes to collect and that increases to room tax revenue would primarily benefit Ocean City. Berlin, however, will get traffic, trash and wear and tear on its infrastructure, Engelhart said.
“All I see is negative impacts on the horizon and someone else benefiting,” he said.
Councilman Jack Orris asked if the county had reached out since the public hearing. Engelhart said no one had but that he had reached out to county staff.
“So you are talking,” Orris said.
“’Talking’ I would use loosely,” Tyndall replied. “We have indicated we would like to have a conversation.”
Engelhart said proponents of the project talked about the revenue it would generate. He suggested a formula like the one created when the Ocean Downs Casino was developed to provide those impacted with some financial support. He said there was little doubt the town would see increased expenses in the areas of its infrastructure and public safety costs.
Councilman Dean Burrell expressed his “total disappointment” with the county’s lack of communication with the town.
“The property may be located in the county but we all know that is the town of Berlin,” he said. “I am so disappointed that a project of this nature would be planned and the Town of Berlin not be informed nor consulted.”
He suggested the town invite county leaders to come speak to the council. Nichols, who lives on Flower Street, agreed and indicated she was surprised that the commissioners felt there was widespread support for the complex.
“Never once were the residents of Briddletown notified or asked what their thoughts were on this monstrosity,” she said. “That’s what I’m calling it, because that thing right there will not service those kids that live on Flower Street. That thing will not service the children that live in Berlin unless you are part of an elite team.”
She added that a sports complex adjacent to the high school meant it could never expand.
“As this community grows—and we are growing leaps and bounds—that’s going to cut us off at the knees,” she said. “Where’s our high school going to grow? How can it grow if this thing is right there? So if they had come to us first they would have heard that before tonight.”
Resident Ron Cascio thanked the council members for their level of concern regarding the sports complex. He said the town had to be careful about what the county and the Town of Ocean City were foisting on it.
“I think we need to be very careful,” he said. “We’ve watched Ocean City over the years make that town essentially for most people unlivable. We need to be very careful they don’t bring that whole thing this way.”
Tyndall suggested inviting county representatives in for a work session so the town’s concerns could be addressed.
“I don’t know how much attention they truly pay to Berlin and what goes on,” Nichols said. “I’m hoping that they do but I’d like for them to at least have a true picture of what Town of Berlin is and what we’re dealing with infrastructure-wise and what the impact of that site could mean to us.”
Burrell suggested the county representative attend a regular meeting rather than a work session.
“That would allow the public to participate and ask them questions,” he said.
Tyndall indicated he’d proceed with drafting a letter to the county expressing municipal concerns and inviting officials to attend a council meeting.