Friday, June 19, 2009

Growing Berlin Green Begins

by Kate Patton

Currently, the Town of Berlin is nearing the final stages of developing an updated Comprehensive Plan, and the document will be sent to Worcester County and the State Department of Planning before returning with recommendations. Grow Berlin Green (GBG), a collaborative project of the Assateague Coastal Trust, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Lower Shore Land Trust, has been following the process which allows for public input and has worked to understand the changes and share that information with the public.

The town conducted a survey in 2008, and the majority of residents who responded indicated that limiting growth was important. Additionally, many indicated that they would like to see more walking and biking paths, parks and connectivity to these areas around town. A greenbelt can help provide these functions, while also supporting the other functions.

A greenbelt, incorporated with greenways through the town, could provide recreational opportunities, stormwater management, preserve agricultural lands and natural habitat, protect water quality in our creeks, bays and groundwater, and offer sound buffers to traffic along Routes 50 and 113. By incorporating a greenbelt into our plans now, we can help create a natural definition for where we want Berlin to grow, and provide important environmental and economic benefits for all, improving the overall quality of life in our small town.

Berlin's elected officials, planning commission, staff and residents recognize the need to accommodate additional growth for the County over the next 20 years. While we may not realize state predictions dating from several years ago, there will, without a doubt, continue to be pressure from additional residential and commercial growth to our county. We must, however, work together to make decisions as to how we want to look and what services are necessary to enhance the rural village setting, without compromising the qualities that draw visitors and residents to our town in the first place.

Aside from helping to visually define the boundaries of the town, another important function that the green belt could help provide, would be a scenic buffer along the entrances. The best opportunity at the present time would be to recognize Route 346 as a gateway to town, and see that any future development proceeds with scenic buffers. Additionally, there are sensitive lands along the east side of Berlin, serving as the headwaters of Trappe Creek. These areas should be recognized for their important resource protection opportunities.

There are still details to be worked out as to how to what methods would be best to implement the plan, and we encourage the town to fully explore the use of Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), possibly as new parcels are annexed into the town. Additionally, while there are some great components in Berlin's Draft Comprehensive Plan, we will all want to review the final draft before the Town adopts a guiding vision for the next couple of decades.

A great deal of work has gone into planning for the future of the town. Staff, Mayor and Council Members, planning commission members, and the consultant have worked to develop a plan that will serve the town over the next 20 years. It will be critical to the end result that the public remain involved in the process. By working together, we can realize our vision for our growth and still preserve the qualities that make Berlin a great place to live and a jewel of Worcester County for tourism, arts and culture, and a model for a more sustainable community.

Kate Patton serves as the Executive Director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, and assists with the coordination of the Grow Berlin Green project.

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