BERLIN — Although it was a long fought and often heated debate, the controversial decision to give the go-ahead to build a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant it looked, at the time, as if the Town might not be able to afford is paying off more quickly than had been anticipated.
At this week’s meeting the Council approved a measure that would allow the inauguration or expansion of several local businesses that was only possible because of the decision to endorse a radical wastewater treatment plant overhaul over a make-do approach.
Mayor Gee Williams commented on the number of projects and potential projects the Town has been able to endorse or accept because of the expanded capacity.
Among the decisions was the appropriation of $28,000 to pay engineering company Davis, Bowen and Friedel to design an extension for water and sewer service along Route 818 — Main Street north of Old Ocean City Boulevard — and across Route 50.
The properties along that stretch are within the Town limits but it has been difficult to entice development without being able to offer all public services. Now that that will change, the opportunities for new business are significant.
“We now are in the edu business again,” Williams said. “This is an area of town that’s going to have a lot of potential for commercial growth.”
Similarly, Berlin Director of Community and Economic Development Michael Day can continue to push that section of Town as part of his ongoing attempt to expand the business base.
Day told the Mayor and Council that he had arranged, with the help of real estate company Sperry Van Ness, to lead a tour of 50 commercial realtors along the corridor and surrounding areas with a focus on fostering new businesses for the Town outside of the quickly-filling Downtown area.
Since the Town has almost unlimited capacity for growth — it is likely to run out of land before it runs out of capacity — it has become more attractive to both startups and relocating businesses.
Two such businesses are well on their way to opening. Ernest Gerardi, who owns both the former boarding house on North Main Street and the former hardware store Downtown, was able to secure enough EDUs to continue completion of the proposed 80-seat Italian restaurant that will take up half of the former hardware store — the other half is occupied by Culver’s Antiques.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” Gerardi told the Mayor and Council during his testimony on the subject. “I’m very interested in the properties, that they look nice and that they fit nice [with the surrounding businesses].”
Gerardi was testifying because, as part of his request for additional EDUs, he wanted to make payment arrangements for their purchase.
The Town of Berlin recently instituted a policy that allowed business owners to pay for EDUs over the course of as many as five years rather than all up front.
“We did that to encourage people to make investments in the town during tough economic times,” Williams said. “I’m really pleased that these EDUs are starting to move.”
Williams went on to thank Gerardi for his continued belief and investment in the Downtown.
“Many people didn’t have the faith or the determination to make the investment,” he said.
In response to questioning from Councilman Elroy Brittingham, Gerardi told the Council that he expected to have the Italian restaurant open Downtown by the end of June and the other restaurant, which he called “Tex-Mex and a little be more than that,” opened in the former boarding house not long after.
The Council was also able to grant Atlantic General Hospital’s request for four additional EDUs to accommodate their cafeteria expansion. AGH requires 40 more seats and has agreed with the Town’s estimate of the number of requisite EDUs.
Water Resources Director Jane Kreiter told the Mayor and Council that she hopes to be able to eventually sell off the powdered sludge the new plant generates or at least find someone who will take it away for free as a way of continuing to reduce the operational costs of the plant.
The new plant has a drying room wherein the wet sludge is turned to powder, which has already decreased the cost of having it hauled away to the dump. Kreiter’s minor frustration is that the sludge has a market value but the Town doesn’t produce enough of it for the bulk buyers to make the trip out to purchase it. She held out hope that eventually she could work with local agricultural concerns to possibly take the potential fertilizer.