Berlin Planners Hear Proposed Project’s Details

BERLIN – Property owners Tom Ruark and Monogram Builders would like to develop the Davis-Taylor Farms into 816 units of workforce housing and assisted living, but Bob Bunting, owner of the neighboring airstrip, is not happy with that idea.

Bunting fears the development’s residents would complain about aircraft noise and that eventually he would be sued. The past history of developments near airstrips shows that complaints just increase as more houses are built, according to Bunting.

“By the fifth year, you have so many [complaints] you end up in court,” he said.

Ruark and attorney Joe Moore went before the Berlin Planning Commission Wednesday to make an informal proposal of their plans for the property. The presentation echoed the one they gave to the Berlin Town Council in April.

“We have certainly not reached a meeting of the minds with respect to his airport,” Moore said.

Bernie Busby, an aviation consultant brought in by Ruark to look into the effect of airstrip noise on the two farms he is proposing to develop, said that property owners should not be bothered by the noise, given that the demographics of the residents show they would spend much of their time indoors during flight operations.

“Isn’t it possible for you to alter your flight pattern so you don’t fly over [the development]?” Moore asked Bunting.

“Not with our spray planes, no,” Bunting said.

Banner planes also fly out of the airstrip. On some days, depending on conditions, the aircraft must fly over Ruark’s property to set up for landing.

There is a half-mile between the development site’s property line and the end of Bunting’s runway.

“They’re not really flying over the site, or they’re seldom directly flying over the site,” Ruark said. “We’ve got agricultural land all over the place here. They can stack over other areas.”

At times, Bunting’s advertising aircraft must stack or remain in the vicinity of the airstrip, when the pilot fails to pick up the banner after taking off and must wait for other aircraft to depart to make another attempt.

Based on past history, Bunting said, “We have to be very leery.”

“All due respect, Bob, I think your operation is much less intrusive than the picture that is being painted on this property,” Moore said.            

“I didn’t come to argue tonight,” Bunting said. “I just wanted to see your presentation.”

Bunting said he would continue to talk to Ruark and that he would like to bring his own experts before the Planning Commission in the future.

Moore said that Ruark has offered to include “a clear and unequivocal disclosure” about the presence of Bunting’s airstrip in all purchase contracts.

“The complaints will not have any legal validity,” Moore said.

Planning Commission Chair Pete Cosby suggested adding a waiver of the right to object to the airstrip noise on the plat and in the deeds.

That would be up to Ruark, Moore said.

Other than the conflict with Bunting, the project was tailor made for Berlin, with planners basing the development on the draft Berlin Comprehensive Plan.

Although Ruark originally intended to build large, single-family homes on the site, Worcester County refused to allow the town to de-annex the property. The Berlin Town Council then refused to rezone the industrial part of the site, which led Ruark to a Planned Unit Development (PUD) approach.

According to Moore, Berlin town attorney Dave Gaskill and Berlin Planning Commission attorney Ed Baker both agree that the proposed land use is compatible with a PUD and would not need to be rezoned.

Ruark looked to the town’s draft Comprehensive Plan’s goals and objectives for his new approach, resulting in a plan for mixed uses, workforce housing and senior assisted living facilities with medical and other health related commercial uses. Over 20 acres of land has been reserved for industrial uses as well.

Atlantic General Hospital is interested in partnering with Ruark on medical facilities, as is Gillis Gilkerson, a regional developer that has worked on many medical office buildings. Vantage Point Retirement Living Inc., developer of Mallard Landing assisted living in Salisbury, is also interested in becoming part of the development, Moore said.

Ruark anticipates developing the land over at least 20 years.

There are only 505 EDUs attached to the site, over 300 short of the 816 units planned, but Ruark is not asking for more at this time, with capacity in Berlin limited.

“If the 505 stays 505, that’s the development of this property,” Moore said.

According to Ruark, in Salisbury, the condominiums would sell for the high $180,000s, while the smaller town homes would go for just shy of $200,000.

Cosby said he would like to see a nice park, like Ocean City’s Northside Park, included in the property with a playground, swimming pool and ballfield.

“We’re here to do what you want us to do,” said Ruark.

Moore said, “We’re giving you a notion and asking you to tell us how to change it,” Moore said.