By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Aug. 10, 2018) A proposed new gateway into Berlin took a crucial step forward Wednesday night, as the town planning commission voted 5-1 to recommend adding two parcels of land at the intersection of U.S. Route 50 and Old City Boulevard to growth area three of the Town of Berlin Comprehensive Plan.
Property owner Ernie Gerardi hopes to develop the parcels, totaling 18.65 acres, into a convenience store, car dealership, retail shops, hotel and restaurant. Earlier attempts to also include a 36-unit apartment building were abandoned.
Gerardi will now seek a comprehensive plan amendment from the Berlin Town Council, then request annexation into town, and finally return to the commission to ask for site plan approval.
Attorney Joe Moore, representing Gerardi, argued the parcels’ size was small, amounting to a three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the growth area, but the benefit would be big in terms of jobs, provide about $80,000 each year in tax benefits, and offer a significant increase in visibility from Route 50.
He said criticism that approval would create a “wave of annexations” was unfounded and disputed a notion previously stated by Councilman Zack Tyndall that the development could overwhelm Berlin’s water and sewer capacity.
Moore said an estimate from Berlin Public Works Director Jane Kreiter showed the entire proposal would require about 43 EDUs, or equivalent dwelling units measuring water consumption, and that 967 EDUs are available.
“This will be another Ernest Gerardi project of which this town can be proud and, most importantly, will provide an easy method for the visitors coming to this area to find a way to our great town,” Moore said.
Interest in the project was high, as evidenced by the unusually large crowd in the Town Hall council chambers, and public comments on the project were roughly two-to-one in favor. Even those against it widely praised what Gerardi has already done in redeveloping Berlin homes and commercial centers.
Commission member Ron Cascio said the expansion would ultimately be a detriment to the town, despite Gerardi’s reputation.
“I have nothing but praise for Mr. Gerardi and what he has done in town,” Cascio said. “But we don’t give permits, we don’t give approval based on character, promises and intent. We give approval – or not – based on a plan.”
Commission member Pete Cosby was among those in favor, saying the project was a “no-brainer,” in part because it would empower the commission in the final site plan approval.
Cascio voted “no” and another commission member, Barb Stack, abstained. Cosby, Chairman Chris Denny, John Barrett, Newt Chandler and Phyllis Purnell backed the recommended addition to the growth area.