Second housing project on Maple Avenue delayed to consider potential impacts
(Aug. 26, 2021) Concerns about flooding and the possibility of worsening traffic congestion kept the Berlin Planning Commission from approving site plans last week for a proposed 33-townhome community on Maple Avenue.
Maple Avenue of Berlin LLC and UTR Ventures LLC representatives presented the “Mapledale,” project to the commission last Wednesday.
Attorney Mark Cropper, representing developer Bobby Kitchens said the site plan involves three parcels on 4.5 acres by Maple Avenue and Elizabeth Street, which is in the multi-family R-3 apartment zone.
Berlin’s Board of Zoning Appeals granted developers a conditional use last month so they could build townhomes in an R-3 zone. They also gave the project a special exemption to reduce minimum widths of the units from 18 to 16 feet.
Kitchens told the planning commission the project’s aim is to provide housing for reasonable cost.
“If they can afford rent, this would be an ownership opportunity,” he said.
If plans are approved, the engineering phase would start immediately, with construction beginning within a year, Kitchens said.
“We’ll probably do it in phases with two clusters at a time, depending on market conditions,” he said.
Townhouse sizes would total roughly 1,400 square feet with two or three bedrooms and at least two bathrooms.
The project’s site plans show a single point of ingress/egress from Maple Avenue.
Commission member Phyllis Purnell, however, said she’s worried about flooding in the area, and noted the heightened flooding connected to the development of Willows at Berlin at the end of Maple Avenue.
“It’s a river there when it rains,” she said.
Located on an eight-acre parcel at 312 Maple Ave., the Willows project entails 66 housing units varying between one to three bedrooms.
Purnell said the Willows project has increased a traditionally troublesome stormwater management issue in the neighborhood.
“All the water from Flower Street runs down Maple,” she said. “The stormwater management problem has never been addressed.”
Purnell said recent rain storms have caused flooding damage to homes in the immediate vicinity.
Planning Director Dave Engelhart said the increased flooding problems are tied to storm drains the Maryland Department of the Environment mandates stay covered in silt fabric while projects are underway.
“The water doesn’t have anywhere to go as fast as it’s building up,” he said. “We have been out there several times but we can’t get MDE to let us open up those storm drains.”
The state regulations are intended to prevent runoff from the under-construction Willows site going into storm drain system.
“I know it’s been wet there on Maple Avenue for many years,” he said.
Engelhart said the water problems also stem from a ditch located at the end of Maple Avenue that hasn’t been maintained in nearly half a century.
“That’s the property owner’s responsibility, not the town’s,” he said. “It’s not a town ditch”
While the current construction has caused more flooding, Engelhart said the situation should improve when the housing project is finished.
“It won’t be that bad forever,” he said. “It’s going to be a slower drainage area until the end of the project.”
Purnell said the clogged ditch should have been cleared before the Willows broke ground.
“Maple Avenue can’t stand another project on that street,” she said.
Cropper balked at the prospect of his client’s project being penalized because of someone else’s work.
“The developers of the Willows shouldn’t be able to prevent the development of this site,” he said. “That’s basically imposing a moratorium of new development on Maple Avenue.”
Russell Hammond, site planner for Mapledale, said the project would not add to stormwater issues, as all internal roads drain toward the property’s exterior and not Maple Avenue.
Berlin resident Gregory Purnell also voiced concerns.
“The issue is the road grade on Maple in general,” he said.
Despite the Willows project gaining approval from the town, Purnell said problems have arisen that could increase if Mapledale proceeds.
Purnell, who was born and raised on Maple Avenue, said the area is now becoming more hectic with traffic comparable to Flower Street.
“Is this area conducive to building all these projects?” he said. “Shouldn’t there be a comprehensive plan from the Town of Berlin.”
Purnell noted both current water problems and future traffic issues.
“Development is good but it’s where you develop that makes the difference,” he said.
After examining pictures from recent flooding on Maple Avenue, commission chairperson Chris Denny agreed residents have cause for concern.
“I wouldn’t want to live here,” he said.
Commission member Pete Cosby, however, asked about the potential for future development in the adjacent area.
“Are there other large parcels that are going to be coming at us with more projects?” he said. “If we have a mass of land out there that’s going to be accessed by Maple, then the town needs to do a traffic study.”
Denny concurred a traffic study would be appropriate.
Commission member Newt Chandler said Berlin should foot the cost.
“It should be on the town to do the study and improve the street if they rezoned this land for this kind of development,” he said.
Cosby took the opposite angle, arguing the town should take responsibility for hiring a traffic engineer, regardless of who pays the bill.
“You want the engineer working for the town,” he said.
Cropper said traffic study costs would hurt his client’s bottom line and could make the project infeasible.
“That kind of study would be extremely expensive,” he said.
Commission member Ron Cascio dismissed those concerns.
“With all due respect, that’s not our problem,” he said.
The commission agreed to table site plan approval to research traffic study costs.