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Berlin Auto Zone plan goes back for design tweaks

By Ally Lanasa, Staff Writer

(Feb. 18, 2021) A site plan for an Auto Zone store that would replace the former McDonald’s building on Route 50 in Berlin was tabled by the Berlin Planning Commission last Wednesday to give the developer more time to improve his project’s appearance.

The Berlin Planning Commission decided to table a site plan for a proposed Auto Zone store at the former McDonald’s building on Route 50 near Seahawk Road last Wednesday.

Applicant Kevin Murphy told the commission Auto Zone was planning to demolish the existing structure on the site and build a new store as well as new sidewalks and paving.

The State Highway Administration informed Auto Zone that the entrance to the store would have to be relocated because it does not meet the current distance requirement.

“We already have engineered plans submitted to them for approval,” Murphy said.

The town’s Planning Director Dave Engelhart added that the entrance shifted east about 30 feet for deceleration time from the light on Route 50 and Seahawk Road.

Matthew Stoehr, who was elected to serve as vice chairman that evening, asked if the site plan will address flooding at the property. Engelhart replied that EA Engineering reviewed and approved stormwater and water quality management at the site.

Commission members asked developers to soften the design of the store.

“It doesn’t have to look like a Frankenstein to attract your business,” Commission member Pete Cosby said. “I just think that us bending over to corporate logos and corporate designs is not good practice for Berlin. We’ve got something special going on and we want to keep it that way.”

The proposed design looks like the majority of Auto Zone locations.

“That is our prototype look. In search of the [town] codes, there are no architectural requirements that we have to enhance anything,” Murphy said.

Cosby countered that the proposed design does not reflect the town’s character.

“This is a nightmare as far as what Berlin’s trying to do with its buildings,” he said.

Responding to Chairman Chris Denny, who was re-elected to that position that night, Murphy said the company has no pitched roof prototypes.

“We would incorporate items like that if it is in local ordinances, local codes,” he said, adding that a pitched roof would greatly affect the building budget.

Murphy said some improvements he could make to the store’s appearance could be adding parapets to the building and a decorative cornice to the roof line.

Although Auto Zone primarily uses a gray color scheme, a beige, earth-toned color scheme was also a possibility. In addition, Murphy said he could incorporate faux windows to the bare walls of the building.

Cosby suggested Murphy return with renderings in both color schemes that illustrate the commission’s proposed changes.

“We’re not to rubber stamp everything,” he said.

During the Zoom meeting, Murphy showed the commission members a store in Westminster, Maryland that features some of the changes proposed for the Berlin location.

Cosby said although the Westminster store did look better, it still was not ideal. He also addressed the lack of trees in the proposed landscaping on the property.

“These plans are done per town code,” Murphy replied. “If there was interior landscaping that we had to incorporate, we would have incorporated that into the plan. I have no problem adding trees into existing landscaping if that’s what needs to help.”

Denny agreed with Cosby and Stoehr’s suggestion to reconvene in two weeks to review the improved renderings and landscaping plan.

“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request,” he said. “This is something we’re going to look at for I believe 25 years potentially.”

Commission member Austin Purnell agreed that changes can be made to enhance the appearance of the store but thanked the developers for their interest in the town.

“I’m happy that it’s going to get redeveloped and something new will be there,” he said. “That’ll be refreshing to see. We’ve been staring at that dilapidated building for a long time now, too long.”

The commission voted to table the discussion for a special meeting on Feb. 24 at 5:30 p.m.

“I hate to discourage developers, but we got to hold a line in Berlin if we’re going to keep what we’ve got,” Cosby said.