(April 26, 2019) The Worcester Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a request from the Town of Berlin to annex and rezone about half a dozen acres near Main Street and Route 50.
Worcester County Director of Development Review and Permitting Ed Tudor reviewed a letter outlining the request from Berlin Planning Director David Engelhart during the commissioners meeting last Tuesday.
Depending on zoning classifications, Tudor said, state law generally requires county approval for municipalities to annex and reclassify land uses.
“The Maryland Department of Planning advised yesterday, due to nuances, they believe the Worcester Commissioners concurrence is needed,” he said.
The Town of Berlin has proposed annexing and revising zoning for five lots totaling 6.13 acres located west of North Main Street and south of Route 50.
The lots are currently used largely for residential purposes and zoned as C-2 (general commercial), which Berlin wants to amend as B-2 (shopping).
In a March 14 letter, Engelhart told the commissioners the town is seeking to rezone the land as B-2, which Maryland Land Use code requires municipalities to gain approval from its county commissioners or council for five years following annexation of land.
State code also restricts permitting development of the land in question for uses substantially different than the authorized use and limits increasing the development density to more than 50 percent of the previous land zoning classification without county approval.
Engelhart said in the letter since the involved property is not currently zoned for residential uses by Worcester County, or proposed to be by Berlin, the density limits would not be applicable.
Still, Engelhart went on to say the county commissioners would need to consider if the land uses allowed by Berlin’s proposed zoning classification are substantially different than what is permitted under the county’s zoning rules.
The property is within the Existing Developed Area land use category in Worcester County’s 2006 comprehensive plan.
Engelhart noted the “Existing Developed Area” included in the comprehensive plan identifies current residential and other development in unincorporated areas, while seeking to maintain the current development character.
The Worcester County Comprehensive Plan states these areas are not designated as growth areas and should be limited to infill development.
Engelhart said the property proposed for annexation is within Growth Area 3 as identified in Berlin’s comprehensive plan and is contiguous to the corporate limits of the town.
He went on to argue the land is within an existing, developed commercial corridor and is already zoned for said usage by the county.
Engelhart also cited Maryland’s Smart Growth initiative and conjectured the proposed annexation would be consistent with state recommended densities relating to growth for properties adjacent to existing municipalities and established growth areas.
The Berlin Planning Commission voted unanimously following a public hearing on March 13 to recommend the annexation.
Tudor told the commissioners after further review the proposal was deemed to be consistent with zoning categories outlined in the Worcester County comprehensive plan.