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


New housing project could greatly expand Berlin borders

(June 4, 2015) Two months after the Berlin council narrowly approved an annexation proposal on Seahawk Road, paving the way for the development of potentially hundreds of new townhomes, the prospect of a second, possibly even more ambitious appropriation, is looming.
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said he was recently approached by Hugh Cropper, an attorney representing the Carl M. Freeman Companies, who floated the idea of annexing the Bay Club on Liberty Town Road into Berlin limits with the goal of building 300 luxury homes on the site.
The property is on the county’s growth map for development, although it currently lies nearly two miles outside of Berlin town limits.
“It’s the beginning of the beginning of the discussion,” Williams said, adding the project would involve converting the two golf courses on the site into “an upscale housing development for high-income individuals.” The developer would pay for needed infrastructure and “ongoing water and sewer costs,” Williams said.
The mayor brought the idea before the town council less than a week later during a closed session on Tuesday, May 19. The presentation included a small, roughly three-by-four foot scale model of the development.
“I’m trying to keep everybody in the loop,” Williams said. “This is a small town. I hoped [the council] would hear about it before most people in town, and Hugh Cropper was fine with that.”
One councilmember, however, was not on board with the idea.
“I don’t feel the need, once again, that the citizens need to pay for upkeep and maintenance of infrastructure for somebody that’s almost two miles outside of town,” At Large Councilmember Thom Gulyas said. “[The developer] doesn’t bring anything in there except cost. I don’t see a benefit for this. We’re going to be running police, trash trucks, fire, ambulances – no thank you.”
Gulyas, along with District 2 Councilmember Lisa Hall, voted against the Seahawk Road annexation in March, citing several of the same concerns. The most recent closed meeting, he said, produced skepticism from several other councilmembers.
“Elroy [Brittingham] was absent, Dean [Burrell] was quite reserved, Troy [Purnell] was quite reserved and said he was skeptical at best, and Lisa and I were like, ‘there’s no way,’” he said.
Gulyas said the mayor asked the councilmembers to “talk about [the proposal] and get input from the town and the citizenry,” adding that the town might be able to annex the Bay Club without including the properties between it and current town limits.
“It’s 1.7 to 1.8 miles out of town. It is not contiguous, however they can do what’s either called a straight pipe, which would be water and sewer, or a road bed annexation where you don’t annex in the contiguous property per say,” he said. “There’s always a way around everything.”
Gulyas said the presentation claimed “over a million” in tax revenue would be generated if the project came to fruition. Still, he insisted he would not support the project in its current state, going as far as saying he would retaliate by voting against the fiscal year 2016 budget unless he received more information.
 “To put that kind of impact on folks at this time – it’s just not the right time. We’ve got too many things going on,” he said. “We’ve got the possibility of the acquisition of Tyson going on, we’ve got Blair Rinnier and his [Seahawk Road] project going on. I just don’t see an upside to this at this moment, and I’m trying to look.
“I’m not anywhere near done,” Gulyas added. “I still have a million questions, and if my questions don’t get answered then I’m not voting for that budget. There’s no way.”
The next step in the process, according to Williams, was “to go down and have an informal talk with the county,” likely with county planning and zoning.
Williams said the larger issue was not whether the project ever becomes a reality, but just how much Berlin can and will expand in the future.
“We have to, as a community, determine what we want our growth to be, how much, and where the limits should be,” he said. “We haven’t had that discussion as a community yet, but we are going to.”
That discussion, Williams said, should involve the greater Berlin community and would likely resemble the recent strategic planning sessions.
“I think the overwhelming majority of people in the community support the idea that we are a destination community that has done so much so quickly to take us forward economically, make many businesses economic staples, create so many new jobs, and we’re still at the beginning of that,” he said. “We’ve shown that we can grow. Now we have the wonderful challenge of deciding how much growth.
“We need to all get around the kitchen table, listen to a variety of input, get educated as a community about our options, then have a discussion so that we can exchange ideas in a civil and open way, and then make a decision, collectively,” Williams added. “It shouldn’t just be the prerogative of the mayor and council, but this potential for growth is real.”