Senior Living, Workforce Housing Eyed For Berlin Site

BERLIN – Owners of the Davis and Taylor Farms in Berlin
dangled an intriguing senior living and workforce housing project in front of
the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday, hoping for, but not precisely getting,
their blessing.

The property, originally annexed into the town as an
industrial park in 2000, has sat empty since that project fell through.

A recent attempt to have the property de-annexed back into
the county was rejected by the Worcester County Commissioners. Property owners
Tom Ruark and Monogram Builders had planned to build a single-family home
development on the property, but have been stymied by lack of sewer and water

Attorney Joe Moore came before the town council Monday to
make the case for the new idea before spending the time and money going through
the planning process. Moore did not ask the council to take any action Monday

The property in question has been in the town for seven
years but nothing has been done with it.

“This property is the 800-pound gorilla,” said Moore.
“We’ve got to do something with the Davis and Taylor Farm.”

The property owners took the unusual step of creating a
project to reflect Berlin’s draft comprehensive plan, including workforce
housing, stream buffers, open space and medical and professional offices on
site. The streets will be narrow and the project will be pedestrian friendly,
Moore said.

“You know it hasn’t been accepted yet,” council member
Paula Lynch said.

Moore replied that it should be.

“We are proposing as a predominant land use mix on the
Davis and Taylor Farms a mix of workforce housing, and we mean genuine
workforce housing with a beginning, turnkey price of $175,000, and a mix of
senior living facilities in the nature of Mallard Landing residential community
in Salisbury,” Moore said.

There will also be professional offices to support
Atlantic General Hospital.

As envisioned, the site is slated to include assisted
living facilities, as well as retirement homes. Mallard Landing developer
Vantage Point Retirement Living Inc., endorsed the project.

Ruark said plans call for roughly 240 condominium units
for workforce housing. Moore cautioned that the numbers were conceptual.

Providing workforce housing is not intended as a deal
sweetener, according to Moore.

“Frankly speaking, it’s our market right now and nobody’s
in it but us,” he said.

Part of the site is zoned for industrial and professional
use and part for residential.

Bob Bunting, whose airport lies next to the Davis and
Taylor Farms, outside town limits, told the town council that the project is
not compatible with his business.

Aircraft start flying at 5 a.m. in the summer, he said,
and go directly over the Davis and Taylor Farms 80 to 100 times a day.

Moore said earlier that the workforce housing would be
placed next to the airport property because the owners work and would be gone
all day. This idea was greeted with general laughter from the audience.

The retirees living in the senior housing would be there
all day, Bunting said.

The site owners plan to ask the town to create a planned
unit development (PUD) ordinance permitting the project, in return for more
control over how is it done. The PUD would allow the town to monitor
architectural designs, for example.

If the project team and town can come up with a mutually
agreeable PUD, they do not intend to ask for a rezoning.

“What we want is to fashion a method by which we can
develop our property,” Moore said.

Some town officials praised the developer for consulting
the comprehensive plan before presenting a project.

“This is the first time I can recall someone went to the
Comprehensive Plan and asked, what does the town want?” said Council Vice
President Gee Williams.

Williams said Berlin has been grappling with what the town
will become and the rate of growth.

“We don’t want too much, too soon,” Williams said. “We
want to be able to assimilate the growth of the town, not choke on it.”

Others worried the plan represented too much, too fast.

“That number worries me to death, because we don’t want
the town to just explode,” said Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale.

The developer, meanwhile, said the proposed development
would not sprout up overnight.

“We’re willing to have a 20-year plan,” Ruark said.

Councilman Dean Burrell cautioned that the general public
has to buy into the idea. Others suggested the proposal could be just what the
town is looking for on the site.

“I think the concept is very good,” said Council member
Elroy Brittingham.

In either case, town officials were not prepared to make a
judgment on the proposal Monday night.

“I don’t think I can sit here tonight and give you
blessings,” said Council member Ellen Lang.

project team will next need to work with the Berlin Planning Commission and
airport owner Bunting.