Barn Hill Preserve looking at location in Ocean View

The Ocean View Town Council at its regular meeting on Dec. 14 discussed the potential of an animal preserve operating within town limits, just off Route 26, following the receipt of a letter from Barn Hill Preserve.

Barn Hill Preserve, a business that offers educational animal programs while focusing on conservation education for diverse audiences, contacted the Town about potentially opening a new location within Ocean View, adjacent to the Salted Rim restaurant.

“Our business plan includes a hands-on conservation center, where guest learn about and have the opportunity to interact with native and exotic species. This will not be a large facility, as we only anticipate holding an estimate of 60 guests an hour and will only be open until sunset. The animals that we wish to house will be low-maintenance animals with minimal/quiet vocalizations. We hope to stay open off season to help bring more visitors to the area,” wrote Josh Mueller, co-owner of Barn Hill Preserve.

In Mueller’s letter, he inquired as to what kind of permissions the business would need in order to pursue its desire to open the facility within town limits.

Mayor Walter Curran voiced his concern about the property being within close proximity to restaurants, which “I don’t think is a particularly good mix.”

As for the location’s hours, Curran said closing at “sunset” could be quite late in the evening during the summer months.

Mueller said they want to have a wide range of hours to give people ample opportunity to visit the preserve; however, it wouldn’t open until close to 9 or 10 a.m., and would likely not stay open too late, as the animals would be more difficult to view.

Curran also called attention to the 60 guests per hour estimate, which he said he believed would be high traffic for a smaller-sized area.

“I grew up in the area… I’ve lived here my whole life. I went to LSU for college, which is when I started working with these guys. When I was working there, I realized we had nothing like this where I grew up, so I wanted to try to bring it home,” Mueller explained.

“I know 60 sounds like a lot. That’s a big number that we’d max out with. I highly doubt, especially the first year, we’d be hitting 60 guests an hour. I’d love it. It would be fantastic if we did. We noted that because we don’t want to have a lot of people there. We want it to be small…”

Councilwoman Carol Bodine said she was looking at the list of animals that the preserve has experience with and wishes to have on the property, which includes macropods (kangaroos), two-toed sloth, otters, camels, alpacas and sulcate tortoises, and asked if there was room on the property to keep all of them.

“Some of the animals we would be keeping on the property only during the summertime. We don’t want any large livestock here, so we’d only keep the smaller camels here,” he said, noting that when the animals, such as the baby camels, grew in size, they could be transported back to the main facility in Louisiana.

Curran asked Public Works Director Charles McMullen about any changes needed within the town code to accommodate such a facility.

“We’d have to create a use in the Permissible Use section 140-24 that would accommodate what is being proposed here,” said McMullen. “If the council decided they wanted to move forward, it would be placed into an ordinance for introduction to revise or amend that particular part of the code. Because it is a land-use issue, it would go before Planning & Zoning and then back to town council for two public hearings, at which time, if people wished to oppose or speak in favor of, they would have the opportunity to state that.”

McMullen recommended that if the council did choose to move forward with the change of code, that such a facility only be a permissible use by special exception, to allow for the Board of Adjustment to review the application.

Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader told Mueller that if he were representing Barn Hill for such an application, he would tell them to look for opposition focusing on the potential traffic, noise, odor and dust created by the business.

Mueller pointed out that the animals they would keep on the proposed site wouldn’t make a great deal of noise. He said that anything that could make more noise wouldn’t live there.

“If they were to go, they would live on my farm, and I would bring it there maybe during the day and then bring it home… Camels would probably be a loud thing, and that just sounds like a loud man groaning.”

Mueller said they would work with the Town to ensure concerns are addressed.

“We have a lot of regulations ourselves we have to follow. The USDA is really strict; the State of Delaware is very strict, especially in terms of animals [potentially] getting out. We have to have double enclosures on everything, so if they get out of one enclosure, they can’t get out because of the second one… If there is anyone who has objections or concerns, I’m happy to help and to make sure we’re addressing all those problems.”

He added that the property Barn Hill Preserve is interested in using is between 4 and 5 acres in size (on what is known as the Marino property).

Councilman Bill Olsen asked how the waste from the animals would be addressed.

“We want it to be clean. When people go in, they don’t want to see the animals walking around their soiled areas. We’ll clean it daily and will dispose of it in the proper way. We can work with waste management — that way we can avoid it going into the water table but also addresses the odor.”

Curran said he was not, at that point, personally willing to go against it or recommend it.

“I think, personally, you have a big uphill battle to make this happen. I think the State usually makes things more difficult than the Town,” he said.

Curran said that the council can think about Mueller’s request, and suggested the council, if they decide to come out with an official position, decide in the next month or two.

Right-of-way plan ready for review

Also on Dec. 14, Town Manager Dianne Vogel reported that the Town’s engineering firm, Kercher Engineering, had completed an ADA Right-of-Way Transition plan for the Town.

“Alan [Kercher] has some very strong feelings on the way we should go on this plan,” she said, adding that she and McMullen thought holding a workshop to introduce the plan would be best.

“We are currently budgeting $100,000 per year because we didn’t have a number, so for five years we budgeted $100,000 [each year]. But based on this program that Alan has worked up, if we continue with $100,000, it will take us 20 years to complete this project, and we’ll be looking at 2035 to do all the work required in the town.”

McMullen said it would give the council an idea as to where the money is going, how it needs to be spent and the number of projects the Town has, noting the Town has $300,000 worth of patching in the next five to six years but could save $150,000 by bundling it and moving the work up.

“We’re working through those items, and I think it would be a good thing to have Kercher there to help explain some of those things.”

The council agreed that a workshop would be appropriate; however, a date was not set for that meeting.

In other Town news:

• Vogel said the Town received a letter from Mediacom stating their intent to raise surcharge rates in January, from $2.10 per month by $2 per month, to $4.10 per month.

“Mediacom will also be making some speed enhancements to many of their most popular internet tiers, depending on what you’re presently getting to your home, as well as to businesses here in Ocean View.”

“I can honestly say, in the entire time I’ve lived here, much less been on this council, I’ve never heard one person say anything good about Mediacom, and I find that extremely sad,” said Curran.

Vogel said that, from her perspective, they don’t do a good job helping the general public understand that sometimes problems are not all about Mediacom’s service but the customers’ old equipment.

Curran agreed but said he understands people’s frustrations, noting that a business in the service industry shouldn’t have nothing but negative reviews.

• The Town has hired Sandra Peck as the Town’s new finance director. Current Finance Director Lee Brubaker will be retiring at the end of the year.

Peck currently works for the City of Milford as accounting manager, is a licensed CPA in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and is a graduate of Penn State University. She is scheduled to begin working for the Town on Jan. 9.