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


Growth, traffic woes loom over annexation

(Jan. 8, 2015) When the Berlin Mayor and Council voted to begin the annexation process of a 120-acre parcel of land at 9828 Seahawk Road in December, the town officially entered a lengthy process that could add as many as 900 new apartments and thousands of new residents over a 15-20 year period.
Developer Rinnier Properties, the current landowner, plans to build a series of “market rate” apartments in four phases, beginning with a 144-unit complex next year.
Before construction can begin, however, the town is required to advertise the move and hold a public hearing.
District 1 Councilmember Troy Purnell came out in favor of the annexation, saying, “I’ve been looking forward to some growth [in Berlin] for some time now.”
Purnell served on the county planning commission when annexation and development, rumored for at least a decade, was originally discussed.
“The previous developer, he just couldn’t get the traction going to get the job done,” Purnell said. “I think he had some financing issues. But the guys who picked it up, the Rinnier bunch, they’ve got a really good track record of doing some quality stuff. I think we’re lucky to be having those types of people coming to town and say this is what we’d like to do.”
Purnell said the target market for the apartments would be “your bartender, your school teacher, just out of college and got a job and need a place to live as far as rentals go.”
The only point of contention, in Purnell’s view, is the potential of increased traffic on nearby Flower Street.
“The folks on Flower Street and in that area do not want through traffic coming from that development towards Assateague using Flower Street as a shortcut,” he said. “I’ve heard it over and over, and that is probably the biggest thing that has been negotiated with that property for the last 10 years.”
According to Purnell, the deal with Rinnier includes a provision that would protect Flower Street.
“I believe that’s part of the resolution,” he said. “When you leave that property you’re going to make a right-hand turn and go out to Route 50 to go anywhere. You’re not going to be able to make a left-hand turn to go to Flower Street. I know from talking to the people in east Berlin, that’s their major concern. They don’t want Flower Street to turn into a throughway. All the plans and all the proposals I’ve seen so far show that [would not happen].
“If they pop out with a plan that shows a left-hand turn going towards Mary Road and Flower Street I think there will be a major backlash,” Purnell continued. “I don’t think you’re going to see it.”
Under Resolution 2014-06, Rinnier can purchase water and sewer EDUs in phases, beginning with 144 in phase one. The property owner is required to construct necessary new public infrastructure, including public works and highway improvements, and conduct a traffic study that meets approval from the State Highway Administration.
Provisions aside, At-Large Councilmember Thom Gulyas said he is concerned with the strain on town infrastructure, and is worried the developer may choose to target lower income individuals.
“I don’t think it’s the appropriate type of growth that we need, especially across from schools,” he said. “I don’t want to strap the town of Berlin with anything more than what they should be at this time. I don’t think it’s fair to straddle them with these developers that come in here and want to make their money, do what they’ve done and then leave.”
Gulyas said there was a chance he would support the measure when it comes back for a council vote following a public hearing, likely held in early February.
“I’m anxious to see this come up [to the public],” he said. “I’m anxious to make sure that the word gets out there.
“If the whole town says they want to see this, then I’ll vote for it,” Gulyas continued. “I still won’t agree with it. Be careful what you ask for, but if that’s what you want, that’s what we’ll do. I just don’t think it’s the best match for this town.”