Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – September 2, 2022

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – September 2, 2022

There seems to be some confusion over short-term rentals in Berlin. At last week’s meeting, Berlin Councilman Jay Knerr expressed concerns about the ordinance that was passed earlier this year. After it was approved in the spring, an “error” was later discovered and an amendment to the ordinance was needed. Language needed to be added to the ordinance that short-term rentals in the R-1 and R-2 districts should only be in permanent residences. During first reading of the revised ordinance last Monday, Knerr questioned whether the town’s reason for tackling AirBNB-like rentals is truly reflected in the finished product. The issue was “intent” behind the ordinance in general, not the changes reflecting the zoning district error.

“In the entire time we were discussing this ordinance, the words that were being thrown around were ‘owner occupied.’ That came up constantly and that was the desire of the council. That’s what we wanted. The way this ordinance reads is in R-1 and R-2 it has to be your permanent residence,” Knerr said. “… to me the intent was the owner had to be present in the property when there was a tenant. Otherwise, you haven’t done anything, and you can rent your place to whoever. … I believe there should be language in here to tighten it up, to say it needs to be owner occupied. I think we missed that. The discussion all along was owner occupied. That means if I am owning the property I need to be there when it’s being rented.”

There does appear to be some merit to Knerr’s recollection and the confusion that appears evident about the ordinance’s ultimate goal. Discussions over the years at town hall have included the term “owner occupied” as well as “permanent residence.” In explaining why he would not be signing the passed ordinance, Berlin Mayor Zack Tyndall said in April, “ … as I stated previously when I was a council member, I believe the owner-occupied provision provides a negative impact on some of our residents that call Berlin home.”

In response to Knerr at last week’s meeting, Planning Director Dave Engelhart said his intent with the ordinance – one he thought was shared by the majority of the council – was to draft an ordinance to prevent real estate companies from buying blocks of residences in town and putting in short-term rentals. He said, “The idea of the permanent residence restriction in the R-1 and the R-2 was that we protect those neighborhoods where we don’t have your house, your neighbor’s house and the third house … bought up by a real estate investment company just to have short-term rentals. The way to ensure that was to have the 180-day restriction with the state … the other idea was there are a lot of people, a lot of them older people, who spend time in Florida … in order to make it possible for them to keep their home in Berlin – which they want to do – they want to be able to rent it on a short-term rental or someone who never leaves the town the ability to rent a bedroom or two in their home… that was to my recollection the way the discussions went and the vote.”

The town will revisit the discussion Monday, Sept. 12 as the ordinance is slated for a public hearing and second reading. At last week’s meeting when he sought the inclusion of the “owner-occupied” clause in the ordinance, Knerr did not seem to have the support of his two fellow council members in attendance – Dean Burrell and Jack Orris. It could be one of those instances when the ordinance gets passed, as the votes seem there, and annual reviews are held to determine if the short-term rental program is accomplishing what the town wants.

For the first time since the fall of 2019, schools are looking normal as they prepare to reopen for the new year. In this case, the ordinary is worthy of celebrating.

For Worcester County, like every other jurisdiction in the state, the 2020-21 public school year began as the previous year ended with virtual instruction. The 2021-22 school year in Worcester started with everyone wearing masks, albeit in-person unlike most counties across Maryland. In fact, Worcester County held more in-person instruction throughout the school year than any other school system in the state. Facial coverings were required in county schools until March of 2022 when they were made optional in the classrooms by the state.

Enthusiastic back-to-school nights across the county were held this week. These events did not take place two years ago, and last year’s events were largely held outside. It’s worth noting parents were not permitted inside most public schools until last spring as the school year was winding down.

At this week’s back-to-school nights, all seemed normal. It was refreshing for parents to be able to walk around the school, visit classrooms and talk with teachers. It was as it should be, and normal never felt so good.

Ocean City has been discussing reconstructing Baltimore Avenue from N. Division to 15th streets for at least 25 hours. It was learned this week the project cost has doubled to $40 million and could take four years to complete in phases rather than the initially projected two years.

Though the soaring estimate was worrisome, there appeared to be a willingness among the city’s elected officials to continue to move forward with planning for the project. While the final cost estimates are being narrowed down, the city would be wise to take a deeper dive into the other funding sources, such as grants and federal initiatives, that may be available to help offset the huge expense and reduce the inevitable debt. Waiting for prices to go down would not be the right course.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.