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Berlin officials discuss growth

Berlin officials have agreed that growth areas need to be adjusted as a review begins on Worcester County’s comprehensive plan.

Berlin meeting

Berlin Planning Commission Chair Matt Stoehr, right, and commission member Ron Cascio are pictured during a work session with the Mayor and Council March 25.
Charlene Sharpe/Bayside Gazette

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

Berlin officials have agreed that growth areas need to be adjusted as a review begins on Worcester County’s comprehensive plan.

The Berlin Town Council this week held a work session with the planning commission to discuss growth at the town’s borders. The two bodies agreed to let county officials know that growth areas currently depicted around the town in the comprehensive plan are too large and need to be adjusted.

“We just need to build the Berlin wall and say no,” said Ron Cascio, a member of the town’s planning commission. 

The current Worcester County Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2006. In early March, the town received a letter from Worcester County officials advising municipal officials that during the next year a consultant would be working with the county’s planning commission to update the plan.

“As we begin our review, it is important that we begin discussions with each municipality to get your input on existing and proposed future growth areas surrounding the town of Berlin,” the letter reads. “One of the most important goals of the county’s current plan is to maintain the rural and coastal character by continuing the county’s concentrated development pattern. To achieve this goal, we must continue to support sustainable growth by infilling existing communities and identifying appropriate areas for future growth.”

Mayor Zack Tyndall said the questions the town was tasked with answering were whether the current growth areas were adequate and whether or not they were in the wrong place. Cascio and Matt Stoehr, the only two members of the planning commission present, said there was space for infill development within the town’s current borders and that the county’s growth areas outside Berlin needed to be adjusted.

“We have determined we should not annex any more properties,” Cascio said.

He referenced planner Dhiru Thadani’s visit to Berlin and his emphasis on infill. 

“For a small town to function as a small town size matters,” Cascio said. 

Cascio said there were still areas for development within town limits. He suggested the ice plant area as well as the grain tower area.

Councilman Dean Burrell said he understood the desire for Berlin to remain quaint but questioned how the town would address growing operating costs without an increase in property tax revenue. He added that increasing the tax rate would burden existing residents.

“We do not want to be a town where people who live here cannot afford to live here,” he said.

Cascio said that annexing property would only further increase the town’s operating expenses, as there would be more people that would need services like trash collection and police protection. 

“Tax dollars are more impactful when they’re compacted,” he said.

Tyndall said officials would need to determine how to address the need for revenue. Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said she felt it made sense for the town to stick with its current borders. Councilman Steve Green said he understood the commission’s desire to see growth areas like the one on Libertytown Road eliminated but brought up the possibility of commercial growth. He said the area on Route 50 near the auto parts store and Royal Farms seemed a reasonable place for commercial businesses to go. 

“That’s an area I’d be open to hearing an annexation,” he said.

Cascio agreed there were suitable places for commercial development but that developers needed to work in the town’s architectural style. 

“We think there are no brainers in some commercial districts like Route 50,” he said.

The council is expected to work Monday’s discussion points into a response to the county’s letter. 

This story appears in the March 28, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.