By Greg Ellison
(Sept. 2, 2021) Longtime residents on Maple Avenue in Berlin are concerned about the ramifications of current and future development on the small street dotted with single-family homes.
Wallace Purnell, 89, said several rounds of heavy rains in recent weeks wreaked havoc on his home at the end of Maple Avenue.
“Water backs up to the front steps and runs around the sides of the house,” he said.
Purnell, who has lived in the area since returning home after serving in WWII, said his father bought the Maple Avenue property in 1942.
“I’ve been down here since then,” he said.’
Flooding problems arose for Purnell and neighbors after the Willows at Berlin project, with its 66 housing units on an eight-acre parcel at the end of the street, broke ground earlier this year.
“They brought 200-300 loads of sand in there and built everything up,” he said.
The introduction of construction has apparently exacerbated traditionally challenging drainage problems in the area of Flower Street and Maple Avenue.
Berlin resident Gregory Purnell said a long-neglected ditch bordering the Willows site has failed to accommodate increased storm water flow.
“There’s a ditch over there the town says it doesn’t own,” he said.
Wallace Purnell concurred the clogged ditch needs addressing.
“They won’t clean out the ditch,” he said.
Gregory Purnell said despite the introduction of a retention pond to handle storm water overflow from Flower Street, extreme precipitation has caused problems.
“It now empties into a retention pond but when full, it still goes into the ditch,” he said.
Residents’ flooding concerns, along with traffic issues, were heightened during an Aug. 18 Berlin Planning Commission meeting to consider site plan approval for a proposed 33-townhome community on Maple Avenue.
Maple Avenue of Berlin LLC and UTR Ventures LLC representatives sought approval for the “Mapledale,” project, which involves three parcels on 4.5 acres by Maple Avenue and Elizabeth Street, which is in the multi-family R-3 apartment zone.
“If they don’t fix this here, what are they going to do when they bring in more people?” Wallace Purnell said.
Planning Director Dave Engelhart said the Planning Commission tabled site plan approval for Mapledale because of flooding and traffic issues and directed developers to commission a traffic study to determine impacts on the neighborhood.
“It’s the responsibility of the developer to show that it is doable, and it is not a detriment to the neighborhood,” he said.
Gregory Purnell said the new housing developments also seem out of place on Maple Avenue.
“The community is all single-family homes,” he said. “People have been living here for decades.”
Wallace Purnell said the influx of land developers has been increasing.
“They’re starting a trend because I’ve had two or three people try to buy my land back here,” he said.
Engelhart said the neighborhood has been in the multi-family R-3 apartment zone since the late 1970s.
“Whenever you want to do multi-family units or townhouse-style units or apartments in the R-3, it’s a conditional-use that has to be granted by the Board of Zoning Appeals,” he said.
Berlin’s Board of Zoning Appeals and the Historic District Commission meet the first Wednesday of each month, while the Planning Commission convenes on the second Wednesday.
Shifting demographics have helped drive recent development in and around Berlin, Englehart said.
“For a number of years now, Berlin has been increasing in popularity,” he said. “People want to be in Berlin, and we have the capacity for them.”
State and federal environmental regulations also handicap developers on the Eastern Shore, Englehart said.
“Where there’s land with infrastructure, that’s where people who want to develop kind of have to go,” he said.
Speaking last week, Wallace Purnell said Willows project construction crews have made efforts to improve drainage following the recent Planning Commission meeting.
“They came out this morning and cleaned up,” he said.
Engelhart said the increased flooding problems from Willowdale are tied to storm drains the Maryland Department of the Environment requires to be covered with silt-blocking fabric while projects are underway.
The state regulations are intended to prevent runoff from the under-construction Willows site going into storm drain system.
“They opened up the storm drains so the water could go down,” Wallace Purnell said.
Englehart said the Mapledale project’s next steps remain unknown until the town is notified about undertaking the requested traffic study
“I don’t know where they’re going with it now,” he said.