- Berlin, Maryland, is an appealing, walkable small town
- Berlin, Maryland, is in the path of growth
- Berlin, Maryland, is just around the corner from big box developments
Less than ten miles west of Ocean City, the small town of Berlin, Maryland (in Worcester County), is all of the above. With a population of about 3,500, it lies along U.S. 50 -- in the path of tens of thousands of visitors to Ocean City, including a growing number interested in buying a home in the area.
Commercial strip development lines a good part of Route 50 between the town center of Berlin and Ocean City, including some of the typical superstores, such as this Walmart. The contrast between the historic village center and the new scale of development is striking. One represents a compact, walkable pattern. The other represents convenience and (perhaps) cost savings.
It will be up to Berlin and neighboring residents to vote with their feet, or with their cars, as to whether the commercial activity in the center of Berlin (such as the Atlantic Hotel, or the Globe restaurant and bar, or the ice cream shop) will flourish -- or whether the future will lie in large commercial uses elsewhere (or whether both can co-exist).
[view the above panorama taken in the center of Berlin at full size and in motion by clicking on this link; then run the file. After the image opens, you can use the controls in the upper left corner to stop and start the panorama and change the speed of its motion]
But even more ominous to some Berlin residents -- and to Worcester County officials -- is the recent arrival on the scene of national production homebuilders. Development in the Berlin-Ocean City corridor is taking a quantum leap in scale, at least by historic Worcester County standards.
Take the Glen Riddle project right along Route 50. Being developed by Centex, a national homebuilder -- will have over 600 units, two golf courses, plus a 96-slip marina.
According to information provided by Worcester County Planning Director Sandy Coyman, "this new development along Route 50 is symbolic of a trend ... until recently, most new home building was by local and regional businesses. Large, national companies increasingly dominate the market. The impact on the local construction economy is of growing concern." In fact, these same concerns about the arrival of national builders were echoed by several Worcester County Commissioners (i.e., members of the County governing body) when I met with them on Monday.
Visit Centex's web site and you'll see homes in Glen Riddle priced well in excess of half a million dollars. These are prices that can be commanded from the increasing number of second home buyers and retirees arriving from the Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia area. But what impact will this have on long-time County residents, especially as the overall value of property rises? And, as noted, what impact will the national firms have on local homebuilders?
The County has developed a new comprehensive plan, with growth center policies. The County also has had much success in preserving farmland (see a separate post I'll be making). But there doesn't seem to be a strategy in place -- at least as of yet -- for enabling local homebuilders to compete against the economies of scale that national builders often have. When superstores have arrived they have often swamped local merchants, will the same be happening to another sector of the local economy?