BERLIN — Royal Farms is on track to open a new location at the intersection of Route 50 and Friendship Road within the next year.
The Berlin Mayor and Council voted to defer EDU payments for the project Monday over a span of five years. The next step in the process will be for the property to seek annexation into the town of Berlin.
The proposed Royal Farms facility would be located directly on the corner of Route 50 and Route 452 (locally known as Friendship Road) and would replace, but not eliminate, the existing fast food restaurant on that parcel of land.
“The Royal Farms will occupy the corner where Arby’s is now,” said Joe Moore, attorney for the property owner. “Arby’s will move over.”
Moore clarified that the Arby’s will still border Route 50 but will slide to the west along the property.
The council viewed the addition of a Royal Farms to the Berlin area as a plus with Mayor Gee Williams taking it as a further sign that the town and surrounding properties are growing on pace.
“Quite frankly these plans look great. I think this is a natural extension of the commercial development the town is going through,” he said, adding that all of Berlin’s “gateways” along its major highways contain strong commercial property with untapped development potential.
The proposed Royal Farms property isn’t located within the town limits of Berlin at this time but the plan is to bring it into the fold. The goal is to begin the annexation process soon. But those involved with the project wanted some leeway from Berlin to pay off the four or five EDUs they will need at a deferred rate.
“We will proceed to move forward with an annexation agreement but Royal Farms has asked, as a prerequisite, to get some assurance that they would not have to pay for all of the EDUs in one fell swoop,” Moore said.
The council was amenable to deferring payment on all of the EDUs across a span of five years, which is typical with similar previous agreements. Royal Farms will, however, have to put forward the standard down payment of 10 percent of the cost.
In terms of a timeline, Councilwoman Paula Lynch asked how long it will take before the project will get underway.
“What’s your timeframe on this?” she asked Moore. “Am I going to be able to get my chicken within a year’s time?”
Moore responded, “We certainly hope that it’s going to be sooner than that. What your procedure, of course, is that I will submit a letter of petition for annexation setting forth our requested conditions of annexation and then [town attorney] Mr. Gaskill will advise you and you all will determine if that is satisfactory.”
If the council is favorable to annexing the property into the town, then a public hearing would be held on the issue. Immediately following the public hearing would be an additional 45-day public comment period. For fans of the Royal Farms franchise, there is some good news in that the typical annexation process wouldn’t entirely apply in this case, due to existing zoning, meaning that the property could be annexed in more quickly than usual if everything else falls in place.
“This will be, actually, short circuited somewhat because the zoning is already commercial in the county so we don’t have that normal situation where the County Commissioners have to be agreeable to the new zoning that is being requested,” Moore said.
The timeline is “uncertain,” he continued, and even once all of the paperwork is in and the annexation, assumedly, approved, water and sewer will still have to be extended from the town to the property. The entire process is likely to take at least a few months though Moore is confident that once the ball starts rolling it will gain momentum quickly.
“Once we get our building permit, I can tell you, in my experience, Royal Farms acts very quickly with regard to their development and plans,” he said.
The only issue brought up by the town’s Planning and Zoning Department was a request for assurance that any EDU payment deferral would only apply to the Royal Farms project and not be a kind of blank check that could be transferred to any other project. The council agreed, as did Moore.
“We’re not going to take our five-year deferral and peddle it somewhere,” he promised.
As for the size of the Royal Farms, the plan is to have it fit roughly within the footprint currently occupied by Arby’s. However, Royal Farms would be a larger facility than what’s there now and include area for gas pumps in addition to the store. The final building is likely going to be “a much more generous thing,” in terms of size than Arby’s, according to Moore.