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Commissioners to hear Berlin annexation pitch

(Feb. 20, 2015) Winter’s first snowstorm on the Eastern Shore forced the Worcester County Commissioners to delay their regular Tuesday meeting until Thursday, Feb. 19, after Ocean City Today’s press time.

Before each meeting, certain documents, such as a tentative agenda and supporting paperwork, are made public, and while changes can and often do occur right up until the time of the meeting, the following issues are ones the commissioners intend to discuss.

The Town of Berlin submitted a proposal for the annexation of about 90.5 acres on the east side of Seahawk Road and to the south of Route 50.

Additional property included in earlier proposals to the north of this parcel slated for commercial development was not included with this proposal.

This parcel is to be developed as a residential area and because it is now zoned A-1, it would need to be rezoned to R-4 residential. The change in zoning, due in part to the proposed change in relative population density, allows the commissioners jurisdiction over the annexation, according to a memo to County Administrator Harold Higgins from Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor.

The permitted density of an R-4 district, Tudor said, is one residential unit per 5,000 square feet of lot area, or about 9.7 units per acre to a total of about 744 possible units.

“It is my conclusion that the proposed R-4, Residence District zoning classification for the site to be annexed is not consistent with existing zoning in the area and permit uses which are substantially different than those in the County’s zoning classification,” Tudor said in the memo.

Tudor said the proposal is not consistent with the land uses recommended by the Worcester County Comprehensive plan nor the existing zoning and land use in the area but it is consistent with the Berlin Comprehensive plan and lies within a planned growth area. This, Tudor said, gives the commissioners three options.

“First, they may concur with the Town’s proposed zoning classification upon annexation subject to the terms of the current Annexation and Development Agreement. Second, they may concur with the Town’s proposed zoning classification upon annexation with additional or different requirements beyond those currently proposed in the Annexation and Development Agreement.

“As the third alternative, they may chose to not concur with the Town’s proposed rezoning upon annexation, which would prohibit the Town from allowing the development of the property as now proposed for a period of five years,” Tudor said.

The mayor and council of Berlin submitted a proposed resolution outlining the plan, which will be held up for public comment during the council’s Feb. 23 meeting. An included traffic study showed minimal impact to the nearby roads with a fully populated 900-apartment development.

In addition to the annexation issue, the commissioners also were expected to hear a projected revenue update for fiscal years 2015-2017.

Worcester County is divided into three assessment areas, each on the three-year assessment schedule. The western portion of the county is Area 1, Area 2 is the southern end and Area 3 is the Ocean City/Ocean Pines/Berlin section of Worcester. Area 3 will be assessed for 2016, effective July 1, 2015.

Starting in fiscal 2010 with Area 3 reassessments at $19.3 billion in tax base, fiscal 2011 counted $18.13 billion in Area 1 and $17.52 billion in Area 2. The cycle repeats, albeit with lower numbers in the next three-year term, according to the report. Fiscal 2013 dropped to $15.78 billion in Area 3, $15.06 billion in Area 1 in fiscal 2014 and $14.86 billion in Area 2 for fiscal 2015.

The report quotes State Department of Assessment & Taxation estimates for fiscal 2016 and 2017 that continue the downward trend, reaching $14.79 billion for Area 3 and $15.06 billion for Area 1.

The general fund revenue is estimated to lose about $100,000 from $178 million to $177.9 million, according to the report, which makes use of about $7.2 million in budget stabilization funds this year and estimates $10.5 million for next, with none included on the graph for 2017 despite a smaller revenue figure of $169.1 million.

Major revenues are expected to remain within $150-$160 million with the 2017 estimate looking about equal to the 2015 actual budget, with a dip for fiscal 2016.


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