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Berlin Planning Commission views concept plan for Bay Street development

The Berlin Planning Commission heard the concept plan for the development of a new residential community between Tripoli and Bay streets at a meeting last week.

Bay Street rendering

A rendering shows the proposed design of a residential community planned between Tropoli and Bay streets in Berlin.
Submitted rendering

By Tara Fischer, Staff Writer 

At its Wednesday, June 12 meeting, the Berlin Planning Commission heard the concept plan for the proposed development of a new residential community in town. 

Main Street Homes, an affiliate of Natelli Communities based in Gaithersburg, is spearheading the project. George, Miles, and Buhr of Salisbury are slated to handle the engineering aspect of the residential property creation. 

The housing community proposed between Tripoli and Bay streets along Route 113. Developers said the site was originally to include 33 units. However, due to stormwater and wetlands concerns, the proposal was amended to build 27 single-family detached lots. The concept plan includes a walking trail for the residents to access Stephen Decatur Park. 

“For the pedestrian path, the trail that you have between the subdivision and the park, consider constructing that as a 10-foot wide shared use path complying with federal regulation for pedestrians and bicycles,” Planning and Zoning consultant Rick Baldwin suggested.

The project outline specifies that the development requires 54 parking spaces, but around 73 will be provided. Engineers maintain there will be driveways, and while it is not guaranteed, the hope is also to include garages. According to the building setbacks portion of the concept plan, the minimum lot area is 6,000 square feet and the maximum building height is two and a half stories or 35 feet. 

Since the project was presented as a concept plan for review, the commission did not take a vote on the development but offered feedback to the developers. 

Toward the end of the June 12 meeting, the commission discussed the possibility of imposing a moratorium for commercial and lower residential developments for an undetermined amount of time. Councilmember Steve Green suggested the pause at the meeting of the Mayor and Council on Monday, June 10. Green said he was hoping the planning commission would issue the council a recommendation for or against a short-term moratorium of three or six months. Green noted after watching numerous planning commission meeting the body appears to be struggling with directing applicants, such as Wawa and the Microtel hotel, on the best paths forward when the zoning permits the uses. Green noted the Wawa discussion reached the point the applicant was threatening to sue the town over the planning commission’s continuous questioning of the project.

With the comprehensive plan update underway as well as a process to create commercial design guidelines for applicants, Green said he would support a short “pause” to allow a planning director to be hired. 

Former Planning Director Dave Engelhart passed away last month. In the meantime, Baldwin, a town resident who worked in planning for the city of Salisbury before retiring, has stepped in as a consultant while the town searches for someone to fill the role.

“That is how I initially described it,” Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said of Baldwin’s current position. “It was to make sure that property owners, developers, builders, and projects did not just stall. That they kept moving as best they could.” 

Members of the council seemed to agree with Green when he broached the topic last week, agreeing a moratorium would give the town more time to find a new director and settle in without being overwhelmed with developmental projects. Bohlen maintained the town is actively reviewing applicants for the position. 

At the June 12 planning commission meeting, Baldwin pushed back on the idea of an indefinite pause. Currently, project developers are required to submit proposals two weeks before the next meeting. The consultant recommended that the commission extend this timeline rather than proceed with a moratorium. 

“I propose we move the submittal deadline back to 30 days so there is more of an opportunity to complete the packages in front of me,” Baldwin said. “… I want to continue to move forward, but maybe at a pace that I’m not stepping on my shoelaces, and you all are not being asked to approve something you have not been given the appropriate support for.” 

The group agreed with the recommendation with the commission unanimously opposed to a moratorium.

This story appears in the June 20, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.