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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Commission passes text amendment change

(Oct. 22, 2015) Concerns over a zoning amendment that would limit how many dwelling units could built in a multi-family housing complex appears to have been settled, with the Berlin Planning Commission’s decision to forge a compromise.
Last month that concerns about possible over-building resulted in the amendment being sent back for refinement, as attorney Mark Cropper, representing Rinnier Development Company, withdrew his request for the change during a public meeting at Town Hall.
The amendment, which would have allowed exceptions to the current cap of 12 dwelling units in multifamily homes complexes, was a required step in Rinnier’s plans for the new 700-plus-townhome complex on Seahawk Road.
On Oct. 14, the developer went back to the Berlin Planning Commission with a new proposal to change the cap to 48 units.
Town Administrator Laura Allen said the commission revised that number down to 36 and voted 3-1 in favor of the new amendment.
“It wasn’t as open-ended as the original request,” she said.
With the support of Town Attorney David Gaskill, Allen said the commission decided to skip a second public hearing at the planning and zoning level, instead sending it directly back to the Town Council.
She said the town has already provided notice of a public hearing on Nov. 9, and that the revised text amendment would receive a first reading on Monday during a council meeting at town hall.  
Cropper said he was pleased with the results of the commission meeting. According to Cropper, none of the blueprints for the complex contained more than 36 units per building and the original number of 48 was offered simply “to give the town some flexibility.”
Councilmembers Thom Gulyas and Lisa Hall objected to the original amendment during the Sept. 28 meeting, citing the language that would have allowed  “any number” of units at the discretion of the planning commission. Both attended the commission meeting last week.
Gulyas, speaking during a phone interview on Tuesday, said he was satisfied the commission “came up with a number.”
“We’ll see how the rest of the council deals with that, but at least they gave us a number and they got rid of the word ‘any,’” he said. “That was a concern of mine. We can’t just have anything – build it in ‘any’ number of units. That’s not a good plan in my mind.”
Gulyas said he thought 36 units were appropriate for the Seahawk Road development.
“They’re going to be using it for the area where they have an elevator with primarily seniors and I think that’s a good thing because I’d like to see more senior housing,” he said. “I don’t think we have enough of that and that was my biggest push to begin with.”
Hall, also speaking on Tuesday, elaborated.
“The math on that is the elevator doesn’t pay for itself unless there are 36 units in the building [according to the developer],” she said. “So it’s going to have one building with an elevator so that if seniors can’t get on the first floor, they do have an elevator building. That’s why they went with 36.”
Gulyas said he was unsure if he would vote for the new amendment.
“I think it’s got a more positive light on it than what it did, but I want to hear from the rest of my counterparts,” he said.
Hall, meanwhile, said she planned to enter a “no” vote.
“I’m probably not going to vote for it and my reason is that I’m uncomfortable that every time a developer comes into town, they purchase property, they know what the code is [and] they purchase it based on the code, then they’re buying the property and they’re in planning and zoning wanting text amendments or changes in the code or variances,” she said.
“I just feel that Berlin is expanding, we’re going outside of our greenbelt, we’re going outside of our town borders and that it’s important that we keep the care and integrity of our small-town environment,” Hall continued. “I don’t want us, in 10 years, to look back and say, ‘my goodness, what have we done?’ Once you do these things, you can’t go back.”