BERLIN – A local developer believes an access road linking his medical complex to Ocean Pines is the best solution to potential traffic woes created by the Route 589 project.
On Feb. 5, developer Palmer Gillis attended a community meeting in Ocean Pines regarding his desire to build an access road from the Delmarva Health Pavilion Ocean Pines to Ocean Parkway. The road he proposed would run from the medical complex to the area between the North Gate bridge and Dawn Isle.
Currently, patrons of the medical center are provided with a right in, right out access to Route 589. Many motorists, however, are making U-turns just inside the North Gate because they don’t want to travel north on Route 589.
“The right in, right out might work statistically but it doesn’t work in reality,” Gillis said.
Gillis told the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors and the dozens of residents who attended Friday’s meeting that creating an access road would ensure that the public safety issue didn’t get any worse as he expanded the medical complex. Though it’s only home to one building now, the site is expected to be home to five such buildings in the future.
Gillis said he chose to build the complex near Ocean Pines because medical offices were a good transitional use between highway and residential space and because Ocean Pines was where many of the facility’s patrons lived.
“The main reason we put the facility at Ocean Pines was to serve the largest population in Worcester County,” he said. “If you’re a resident you don’t want to be inconvenienced by Route 589. It’s a heavily trafficked road.”
He believes Pines residents would be better served if they were able to access the facility via a short street that would come out on Ocean Parkway. The street, he said, would be 83 feet behind the closest Dawn Isle home and 131 feet from the furthest.
“It would have no negative impact on property values,” he said.
Gillis, who approached the board of directors with representatives from the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and Peninsula Regional Medical Center, said Friday’s proposal was his first official request to install an access road.
Board members pointed out he’d shared the same plan six years ago. Gillis conceded that he had shown them the plan but hadn’t officially asked for permission to build the road.
Board member Tom Terry asked what SHA had done to address the traffic issue. He said the creation of an access road would send every vehicle exiting the medical complex that didn’t want to go north on Route 589 over the North Gate bridge.
“We’re getting the same solution put on the table six years ago,” Terry said. “This is a state problem. A Route 589 traffic problem that does not belong to OPA.”
Gillis replied that he was simply presenting what he thought would be the best answer to a public safety issue.
“If it falls flat on its face so be it,” he said of the proposal. “I believe this is the best solution holistically.”
Gillis added that other methods to alleviate the traffic issues caused by the right in, right out entrance would be impediments in the future when Route 589 was dualized.
SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer agreed. He said that the state was required to give a property owner access when the land was on a state road. The right in, right out was chosen to allow for the future dualization of the road. And when might that occur?
“The priority for Worcester County the last 10 years has been the finalization of Route 113,” Drewer said. “We have finally funded that last phase of 113. Within three, four years, we’ll be finished.”
At that point, he said it would be up to the county officials to decide what project to do next — Route 589, Route 90 or the Route 50 bridge.
“We have to take this one step at a time,” Drewer said.
He said the medical complex’s existing entrance was based on SHA guidelines that said such a facility would generate a certain number of trips per day. Gillis said a traffic study he’d had done indicated that the right in, right out entrance would serve two buildings. He said he hadn’t had traffic for the potential third through fifth buildings studied yet.
“I believe the traffic study I produce will show the right in will support all five buildings,” Gillis said.
Board member Cheryl Jacobs drew applause when she asked Gillis why he hadn’t addressed potential traffic issues before he started construction.
“I find it curious you purchased this property without having dealt with this upfront,” she said, adding that the bulk of residents in the audience were not in favor of any access road through their community.
Gillis replied that generally people who supported a project weren’t the ones in attendance at such meetings.
When given the opportunity to share their comments, many residents objected to Gillis’ proposal, calling it a “nightmare” and saying that the medical complex was already making a negative impact with its lights and the increased traffic it produced.
Terry, who pointed out that while Gillis had now made the request for an access road he still hadn’t submitted anything in writing to the board, suggested that the developer work with residents to develop a solution that might be agreeable to both parties.
“I think there’s an opportunity to team up with a solution that isn’t a road,” Terry said. “We need to find a way to come together for a solution that’s less dramatic.”
Pat Renaud, president of the board, agreed.
“We want this problem solved,” he said. “We don’t want to let it go and drift for another six years.”
Gillis thanked the board and said he would be interested in working with the community for an alternative fix for the problem.