(Jan. 31, 2020) Two separate land use changes that affect Berlin were endorsed by the Worcester County Commissioners last Tuesday.
The first was to rezone 18.65 acres of land on the south side of Route 50 and north side of Route 346 from agricultural to commercial.
Ernest Gerardi, who owns the land, has been pursuing the possibility of developing it into a commercial gateway for Berlin for more than a year. The county planning commission reviewed the proposed change on Oct. 3, 2019 and recommended that the county commissioners approve it.
Attorney Joseph Moore, representing M&G Land, made the case to commissioners that the agricultural zoning was a mistake. The current use of the land is tilled land. Properties to the west and southwest of the land are also classified as agricultural, while properties to the east are suburban residential.
Moore added that this land is the only area between Ocean Gateway and Old Ocean City Boulevard that is not zoned for a potential use in the growth area for Berlin. Since the 2000 Census, the Town of Berlin has grown 48 percent in population, according to Moore, and the downtown area is at full capacity.
He emphasized that when coming eastbound on Route 50, this area is the first access to any municipality in the county and serves as the gateway to Berlin.
“The growth areas were designed by you all, or your predecessors, to be those areas that are significantly available for development within the municipalities,” Moore said.
Hugh Cropper, who has been a land use attorney for 31 years, testified that the land is inappropriate for modern farming.
“This property is a long, narrow triangle,” Cropper said. “Even though it’s 18 acres, a lot of it is consumed by woods. It’s consumed by the infrastructure associated with the power lines.”
He said it would not be suitable for a residential zoning for the same reasons.
Moore added that most of the existing commercial development in the area is east of the proposed rezoning, at least a couple miles away.
John Salm, of Salm Engineering, testified that there is no public sewer and water service from the area to Berlin, but there is existing infrastructure that can be rebuilt to serve a future commercial development.
Moore confirmed, when the commissioners asked, that he and Berlin Mayor Gee Williams could not reach an agreement to annex the land into Berlin. When land is annexed into Berlin, it is required to be connected to Berlin water and sewer.
There is no access to Route 50, but it would be accessed through Route 346 as a de facto service road.
The motion to rezone to commercial passed unanimously.
The second land change was to annex and rezone two parcels into Berlin, both located on the south side of Route 50 and the east side of Seahawk Road. Together, they total approximately 2.4 acres and are currently zoned C-2 General Commercial. They will now be classified as B-2 and be annexed into Berlin.
The two areas are the site of a former McDonald’s and the current Myer’s Toolbelt property.
Ed Tudor, director of review and permitting, said the surrounding land use was similar and that advised that the county did not need to take any action. The commissioners moved to concur with Tudor’s report and write a letter to Berlin in agreement with the annexation.
Berlin will provide water and sewer to the properties.