(Oct. 11, 2019) The Town of Berlin is about to gain commercially zoned property on its perimeter, as the Worcester County Planning Commission last Thursday unanimously recommended rezoning a parcel on Route 50 from agricultural to commercial.
Ernest Gerardi, who owns an 18.65-acre triangle of land on the south side of Route 50 and the north side of Route 346 and west of Berlin, has been pursuing the possibility of developing it into a commercial gateway for the town for more than a year.
Gerardi and attorney Joseph Moore based the rezoning request on the premise that the original agricultural zoning designation was a mistake. Properties to the west and southwest of the land are also classified as agricultural, while properties to the east are suburban residential.
The current use is tilled land. If the area is rezoned as commercial, it would allow motels/hotels, retail and service establishments, contractor shops, wholesale establishments, warehousing, storage, vehicle sales and service establishments, outdoor commercial recreation establishments, etc.
According to notes from the Department of Environmental Programs, the property must be annexed into Berlin for water and sewer service, but Berlin representatives reported it was no longer considering annexation because of a failure to reach an agreement with Gerardi.
In notes to the Planning Commission, Road Superintendent Frank Adkins noted that a commercial area on that land could cause more vehicle and pedestrian traffic. He said the road was not built for commercial traffic and that an increased volume could cause pre-mature road failure. In addition, Elm Street already has drainage issues that may be aggravated with a commercial area, according to Adkins.
Moore, however, contended the land is too difficult to farm to be classified as an agricultural district. Witness and attorney Hugh Cropper affirmed this point, as he works with many zoning cases and owns farmland.
“If you start from the west and move east, the point of the triangle is a little field that’s probably a half acre,” Cropper said. “I don’t know how they got a tractor in there to plant it and how they’ll get a combine to pick it. Then there’s a ditch. Then there’s a power line.”
Cropper added that farm machinery is larger and has long, straight shots, which is not compatible with the shape of the land. The land would not make a suitable residential district for the same reasons, according to Cropper and Moore. Throughout the meeting, Moore referred to the land location as “the gateway to Berlin” and therefore an ideal location for a commercial area.
“We are the first potential location of any commercial use in the Route 50 corridor in Worcester County,” Moore said.
He also confirmed with Cropper that the land is located in a Worcester County established growth area, while downtown Berlin on North Main Street is already completely developed.
Moore said the proposed area was given the growth designation to recognize its “appropriate development potential for the area close to Berlin. He and Cropper agreed that Berlin has the only successful growth area of Worcester County.
Moore also confirmed with Bob Hand, a land planner, that since Berlin has a growing population, it will benefit from an additional commercial area. Moore cited U.S. Census records that state the population in Berlin increased 28.5 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Before making a motion, the planning commission agreed that a change in zoning would be more desirable in terms of the comprehensive plan’s objective.
Planning Commissioner Jay Knerr acknowledged that the land would be too difficult to farm and moved to give a favorable recommendation to the county commissioners. Planning Commissioner Marlene Ott seconded the motion.