Residents of The Refuge concerned about proposal for new apartments

A number of residents have voiced their concerns regarding the possible construction of two apartment buildings behind The Refuge community off of Route 54.

Ronald Gray, who developed The Refuge alongside Coleman Bunting and still co-owns the land upon which the proposed apartments would sit, said the idea is in the preliminary planning stages, with an internal feasibility study currently being conducted.

“We’re just looking at the feasibility of it at this point — would it support itself,” explained Gray. “We’re doing a feasibility study combining that commercial area and adding a few apartments in the back that don’t have visibility from the road. I don’t know whether we’re going to do it or not. We’re looking at the feasibility of it. It may not even happen, but if it did, it would be nicely done,” he added.

Gray said that they are considering constructing two 16-unit buildings on a parcel of land behind The Refuge.

“There’s a commercial area associated with The Refuge. It’s on the western side of the entrance — there’s a commercial area, 3.34 acres zoned commercial — and we haven’t been able to get too much interest in the retail side of things,” he said. “Access to the property is through The Refuge. I think that’s part of the reason why we haven’t had as much interest retail-wise.”

Cheryl Steck, a Refuge homeowner, said that when she purchased her property about eight years ago, there had been no indication that apartments would be built on the neighboring property.

“When we bought our house, we were promised that that would either be a restaurant or shopping. We were told that by the staff selling the homes. Apartments were never mentioned at all. Our Refuge sign still says, ‘The Refuge — a residential and shopping community,’” she said.

“I was promised that behind my house was going to be little shops, a little boardwalk, a pond with fountains, and I got a storage unit. Actually, there are three storage units there. We’re stuck because they have money and can do whatever they want.”

Steck said that she, along with other residents, is concerned as to how the apartments could affect the existing community.

“Our whole development is up in arms about it,” she said. “It’s not going to help anybody. It’s going to lower property values for everyone in the area, make more traffic for 54. It’s just not going to be a good thing.”

Gray said the apartments would not be intended for those with low-income and could cost $1,200 or $1,300 per month to rent.

“They are not going to be low-income. They’d have a nice façade that would face the townhome section of The Refuge and kind of be a buffer between the townhomes and the commercial area. We thought it would be a positive thing,” he said.

“When I first got out of college and was married, I lived in an apartment complex, and I didn’t think I was an awful person or lowering the value of anything around me by living there… I didn’t think it was such a bad thing to live in an apartment.”

He added that the 32 apartments could be built as condos, with retail below.

“We’re just looking for a good investment that makes sense,” he said. “There are a lot of different options.”

Gray added that he lives in The Refuge and is the last person who would want to do something that would negatively impact the community.

“The last thing I’d want to do is upset people in The Refuge. I live there! I’m not going to put something in that I think would devalue our properties.”

Steck said a petition against the possible construction of apartments will be in the development’s clubhouse for residents to sign until Oct. 25. Then it will be available to sign at the Elks Lodge #2645 in Ocean City, Md., on Oct. 26, prior to the homeowners association meeting.

“I also encourage surrounding communities to draft their own petitions, since this will have a negative effect on all,” said Steck.

At the Refuge’s Oct. 26 meeting, Gray said he will address residents’ concerns regarding the possible apartments.

“We’re going to be very upfront about it,” said Gray.

Gray said that Bunting Gray LLC would not have to go to Sussex County for zoning changes in order to build the apartments.

“We’ve had it approved since the development went in,” he explained.

Gray said that he and Bunting have received a great deal of feedback regarding the apartments and believe that, if they are constructed, they could add to the community in a positive way.

“We thought it would be a good thing. It would be a higher level of apartments. Somebody might have family, a relative who can’t really be on their own anymore. The family has moved to the area, and their mother or mother-in-law wants to live nearby… We’re thinking this could be a really nice thing to have.”