Strategic Planning Session Held

BERLIN– Residents touted Berlin’s strengths and highlighted its challenges during a strategic planning session this week.

On Wednesday, representatives from Salisbury University’s BEACON program hosted the first of two community input sessions for the town’s strategic plan. About a dozen residents attended to share their thoughts. While they had issues they wanted to see improved, they also stressed that the town was a great place to live and needed to stay that way.

“I always tell everybody I feel like I’m living in a bubble,” resident Jim Meckley said.

Residents cited the town’s safety, economic vitality, school district and proximity to healthcare facilities as its good qualities. BEACON facilitators said that both Berlin’s small town charm and its safety were mentioned in the written survey responses they received earlier in the strategic planning process.

Attendees also had plenty to say, however, when it came time to list the municipality’s challenges. Meckley said parking had long been an issue. Others agreed.

Walnut Hill resident Gus Glikas said it had even become an issue on residential side streets.

“Let’s take a really good look at what we’ve got and how to use it,” he said.

Cindy and Glen Davis said paid parking didn’t deter visitors to towns like Rehoboth and could be considered here.

“I don’t think paid parking has to be a dirty word,” Glenn Davis said.

Meckley added that the income from parking in towns that charged helped pay for important services like police.

Berlin resident Cam Bunting said one of the town’s weaknesses was its utility costs. She referenced the water, sewer and electric bills residents received.

“We’re paying too much,” she said.

Bunting added that when’s the town’s stormwater utility had been created, officials said grants would fund most of the costs.

“That didn’t happen,” she said.

Others said stormwater remained a major issue in Berlin.

Resident Patricia Dufendach said that when new structures were built not enough was done to evaluate their impact on drainage.

“That’s a huge deficiency,” she said.

Resident Ron Cascio, who is also a member of the town’s planning commission, agreed that more needed to be done.

Berlin resident Cody Miller advocated for more sidewalks in town, specifically along Old Ocean City Boulevard. He said his staff at Forgotten 50 Distilling struggled to reach the business’s overflow parking lot down the street safely.

Bunting said another planning issue the town needed to be aware of was the potential for an influx of accessory dwelling units. She said the state officials wanted to see more accessory dwellings—things like mother-in-law apartments—because they envisioned a housing shortage.

“I like that we don’t allow two units on a property,” she said. “It’s just more noise, it’s more everything.”

Meckley also expressed concerns about speeding and law enforcement.

“I think a lot of small issues could be solved with better police presence in town,” he said. “Very rarely do I see an officer walking the streets.”

He said if officers were more visible it would deter minor issues such as speeding. He’s worried that cars are driving too fast by places frequented by children, such as Island Creamery and the dance studio.

Glenn Davis said the common theme in community concerns seemed to be enforcement, whether it was enforcement of speed or enforcement of stormwater requirements.

When asked about opportunities they saw for the town in the next three years, Bunting said they would likely include development.

“I guess we have to define what we want to see,” she said. “We have to decide if we want to grow. At what point do you lose your identity?”

Cindy Davis said she felt there were more opportunities for youth recreation in town. She believes Berlin needs more activities for young families. She said the skateboard park hadn’t yet come to fruition and that there was no pool or YMCA in town.

“There’s really not a lot of opportunities for that age but we have a huge population of people under 50,” she said.

Councilman Steve Green said he was surprised cost of living wasn’t brought up during the session. Facilitators said affordable housing had been referenced by multiple people in the written survey.

When Cascio asked how the town would be putting its new strategic plan to use, facilitators directed the question to Green and Councilman Jay Knerr, who was also in attendance. Green said he viewed it as a steering document. Knerr agreed and said officials were already working on many of the items identified Wednesday. He believes the strategic plan will keep the focus on those.

“We need to keep these issues at the forefront so we don’t forget,” Knerr said.

The town’s next community input session for the strategic plan is set for Wednesday, Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. at St. Paul United Methodist Church on Flower Street.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

Alternative Text

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.