Developer Focused On ‘Better Solution’ For Complex Access

BERLIN – Developer Palmer Gillis says he remains interested in working with Ocean Pines to address traffic issues created by his nearby medical complex in spite of criticism from residents.

Several Pines homeowners voiced their opposition to Gillis’ suggestion to build an access road from his medical complex — adjacent to the North Gate — to Ocean Parkway during a public meeting Feb. 5. Gillis nevertheless reaffirmed his desire to work with the Ocean Pines Association in a letter last week, stressing that he would pay for an access road and/or North Gate bridge improvements. Based on the feedback he received at the Feb. 5 meeting, he’s worried those within the homeowners association already have their minds made up.

“My concern is I’m dead on arrival,” he said. “My goal is for the board to keep an open mind.”

Gillis said this week he was currently exploring two possibilities — both improving the North Gate bridge (and the number of traffic scenarios that could provide) as well as altering his project’s existing access to Route 589. Depending on the route he ultimately pursues, he expects to spend anywhere from $250,000 to $750,000 to improve traffic flow surrounding the medical complex.

The issue of traffic at the complex, the first stage of which opened in October, has been a hot topic since Gillis first announced plans to build a five-building medical complex at the site on Route 589. The idea of an access road between the North Gate bridge and Dawn Isle that would connect the facility to Ocean Parkway was initially discussed at a meeting six years ago when Gillis sought zoning support from the association. He brought the topic back up this month and asked the association’s board members if they’d consider giving him permission to build such a road. The street would directly affect three Dawn Isle homes, running 83 feet behind the closest and 131 feet from the furthest.

Gillis said he waited until now to approach Pines officials because he wanted them to be able to see his work first.

“The reason I waited until this point is I wanted to put my best foot forward,” he said. “If I can show them what we’re doing by producing a health care provider in what a lot of people are saying is a beautiful facility, if I can show them that, I think they’ll be more receptive.”

Board members, however, asked why Gillis hadn’t come up with a better solution than the one he first mentioned six years ago. Others said the site’s traffic problems did not belong to Ocean Pines.

“This is a state problem,” board member Tom Terry said at the meeting. “A Route 589 traffic problem that does not belong to OPA.”

Currently, access to the medical center is provided via a right in, right out on Route 589. Because not all motorists entering the facility are coming from the south, and because not all leaving want to go north, drivers are making U-turns just inside Ocean Pines or at the nearby gas station. Gillis has admitted that while traffic studies show that a right in, right out is sufficient, in reality it can cause problems.

According to officials from the Maryland State Highway Administration, the right in, right out was approved because it would allow for the eventual dualization of Route 589. County officials are expected to decide when that will take place once Route 113 is finished.

In spite of the array of negative comments residents have put forth at Gillis’ suggestion of an access road, the developer maintains that that would be the best solution.

“As the property developer, we maintain our belief that the access idea we presented creates more overall benefit for Ocean Pines total community than it does hardship…,” Gillis wrote in his letter to the board last week. “Direct access from Ocean Pines will be of great benefit to the total Ocean Pines community and provide convenience and public safety while providing stable high paying jobs and a great use of our property, health care.”

According to Gillis, he would be willing to fund construction of the access road, annex his property into the community (so it would be subject to annual dues), widen the existing North Gate bridge and improve the North Gate aesthetics.

Gillis is hoping to work with Ocean Pines to address not only his property’s access issues but the community’s own. He’s hopeful the board will indeed form a committee to work with him going forward.

When contacted this week, Pat Renaud, the board president, said he had a few names in mind but hadn’t yet formed the committee.

Of course, Gillis’ medical complex is already underway and will move forward whether the Ocean Pines Association decides to work with him or not. The first building is complete and the construction of the second is set to begin soon. If the board opts not to collaborate with Gillis on an alternative access solution, he will just make changes to his property’s Route 589 entrance as the project moves forward.

“For the board to just say no and have me pursue 589 I think is putting their head in the sand,” Gillis said. “I think they’re missing an opportunity for a better solution.”