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Berlin Sees Need For Master Plan Along With Comp. Plan
BERLIN - Berlin needs a master plan, not just a comprehensive plan, was the message on Wednesday night at the public hearing on Berlin's new comprehensive plan.
Municipal master plans are far more detailed than comprehensive plans, offering a street-by-street design of how a town plans to look in the future, from future parks to streets and schools.
At the public hearing, Planning and Zoning Superintendent Stacey Weisner revealed a $250,000 proposal by planning consultants Ayers Saint Gross to create a Berlin master plan and rewrite the town zoning code.
'I think we all are beginning to recognize this town needs a master plan,' said Berlin Planning Commission Chair Pete Cosby.
Weisner said the more detailed plan is needed to replace the codes written for Berlin years ago before the recent growth spurt.
'It's not a secret our code is antiquated and does need a lot of work,' she said.
The code would be rewritten to reflect form-based zoning, described by the Form-Based Codes Institute as 'a method of regulating development to achieve a specific urban form. Form-based codes create a predictable public realm by controlling physical form primarily, with a lesser focus on land use, through city or county regulations.'
Cosby agreed to the need for a master plan and a revamp of the code.
'We're shotgunning plans as we are now. It's a real problem,' he said.
These planning tools need to be fast-tracked, said Council Vice President Gee Williams, who stressed when he spoke at the meeting that he was present as a private citizen, not as a council representative. 'The world won't wait,' he said.
Cosby said it is more important then ever to move rapidly on the new plan.
'The clock is ticking,' Cosby said. 'The next housing boom, when it starts again, we're going to get crunched.'
The town should put aside the comprehensive plan until it gets form-based zoning in place, said local developer Ron Cascio.
Ayers Saint Gross recommended that staff continue working on the comprehensive plan while the consultants work on the master plan and code, said Weisner.
'That would be the ideal world if we had the money to do it,' said Cosby.
Berlin needs to find the money, Cascio said. He added, 'If you have to raise my taxes, I'd be happy to invest in that.'
The town needs a dialogue on funding a master plan, Cosby said.
Tom Gallagher, representing Bay Club owners Carl Freeman Associates, said the company's offer to chip in toward a professionally written comprehensive plan would apply to a master plan. The company offered to pay 25 percent, or $50,000, of the cost.
Williams told the Planning Commission to get their funding request in now, while the budget is under creation. The commission will consider their funding request at the April 11 meeting.
Funds also need to be spent on a building design standards book as a stop-gap measure, Cosby said.
'We talk and talk and talk. I think it's time to do it,' agreed Cascio.
The plan would represent on paper what the town envisions becoming in the future.
'What we're starting to do is really develop a vision for the town,' said Berlin resident and Comprehensive Planning for Worcester County Director Sandy Coyman.
Several other planning tools were suggested, including a transportation plan, roads and sidewalk plans, and a stormwater plan.
The comprehensive plan itself elicited a gamut of comments over the three-hour hearing.
'What we're doing on land is impacting our waterways,' said Dave Blazer, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 'Please, as you review and look at the comprehensive plan we need to think of ways to reduce our impact on waterways.'
One of the goals of the plan, said Blazer, should be to reduce nutrients going into the Newport Bay watershed.
Several speakers supported in-fill development and avoiding sprawl. More services within walking distance were also popular. Betty Tustin recalled when Berlin's downtown hosted a grocery store and drug store, and she did not have to get into her car to buy necessities.
Traditional neighborhood development, with mixed housing and commercial space, encourage walking and biking, Williams said.
The old and decrepit multi-purpose building on Flower St. needs to be replaced, said Leola Smack. The site could also house a senior center or senior housing, Cosby suggested.
Parking is crucial, said Cam Bunting.
Gabe Purnell asked that some kind of support for youth recreation be put into the plan.
Cascio emphasized the need to set and enforce high standards.
'That'll make it easier on everybody,' Cascio said. 'We in the town deserve the best and we're not going to get the best by hoping for the best.'
Coyman said that urban design, regulating signs and enforcing landscaping requirements are critical to the future of Berlin.