By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer
(March 16, 2023) The Berlin Planning Commission voted 6-0 on March 8 to recommend bringing aboard an urban designer to determine how and where growth in the town should be handled.
Dhiru Thadani, a Washington, D.C. architect and designer, would come to Berlin for a few days and review several aspects of the town before putting together a presentation for the town and its residents.
“It’s in this year’s budget,” Berlin Planning Director Dave Engelhart said. “We want to go ahead and at least add that consultant, engaged and ready to go … It’s a start. We want to get some deliverables out of (this budgeted money). There is some work that we (should) all do on the comprehensive plan and the growth areas in it. Are they OK? Are they still good? Or do you want to see them changed? Things like that.”
Engelhart said that Thadani could get started in a matter of weeks. So far days have been discussed but contract talks have not happened.
Commission member Ron Cascio, who with Engelhart has been conferring with Mayor Zack Tyndall and Town Administrator Mary Bohlen about the idea, said that it is imperative to brief residents on what exactly it is they’re doing and why, especially if they’re to have input on it.
“Sitting up here for 20 years, I can see the pressure building,” Cascio said. “I can feel the pressure building and I hear that from fellow townsfolk about our small town and how we need to keep the livability of the small town. Our plan … and the county plans to just continue to physically expand. That’s what the plan says. I think we really need to look at that and understand what that means to the livability of a small town. I think (Thadani) can help us understand that.”
Cascio said he’d like Worcester County to be involved, since the town’s plan needs to align with the county’s.
Engelhart pointed out that the town has reviewed its comprehensive plan but, surprisingly to him, made no changes.
“This time around we can change it, amend it, chop it in half, anything we want, but it has to be, there’s a process for that,” he said.
The town would have to notify both the Maryland Department of Planning and Worcester County and then hold a public hearing before it amended its comprehensive plan.
“Once we do that, we’re only required every 10 years … to review it and make changes as we see fit,” Engelhart said. “But we could make changes every year if we wanted to.”
Cascio noted that a post-pandemic trend has seen more people leave big metro areas for smaller towns when they realize they could ditch the big-city costs for small-town quality of life while keeping their well-paying jobs.
He said it “could be really good” to have “that kind of people who have business in other places” in the area.
“Everybody’s running out of space,” Cascio said. “We’re having a nicer party and everyone wants to come to it. But at some point, you run out of punch and run out of room.
“If we want to have the livability of a small town, well that’s not the plan. The plan is to not be a small town. Everyone needs to understand that who wants to live in a small town.”