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Berlin officials not happy with $150K lease proposal for fire company parking lot

Berlin council members expressed opposition and concerns last week to a proposal from the fire company for an annual lease of $150,000 for a parking area on the company’s property.

Harrison Street lot-file

A discussion was held last week about a possible lease between the Town of Berlin and the Berlin Fire Company for the pictured open lot along Harrison Avenue.
File photo

A proposed annual lease amount of $150,000 for a parking area on Berlin Fire Company property was frowned on by town officials last week.

During the June 3 quarterly work session with the Berlin Fire Company (BFC), town officials reviewed a proposed commercial lease agreement for the vacant property along Harrison Avenue owned by the BFC. At previous meetings, it has been discussed the possibility of the town leasing the property to allow for a new parking lot to be built to address the ongoing shortage of available spaces in Berlin. 

In a draft of a lease agreement, the BFC proposed an annual lease amount of $150,000 with 50% of any revenue from paid parking being given to the BFC from the town for future capital expenditures. Mayor Zack Tyndall remarked the town would not accept that offer, suggesting a $1 lease per year for the property with all the revenue obtained from the parking lot being directed to the Berlin Fire Company’s capital costs. 

“What we are proposing is that the town make a very small payment to the fire company to lease the site, make the improvements so we can park there … bring on the payment system and then any revenue that comes in would go to cover the capital expenses we know you all need,” Tyndall said. “We don’t really want to keep the money, we just want to be able to solve the parking problem and pass the revenue on in the form of capital. That’s our goal but I don’t think a huge payment for the lease is going to work.”

Green agreed with the mayor and questioned the exorbitant lease price proposed.

“The town does have options, and this is not the only site, just to be clear … $150,000 is a lot more than other option that is closer. I find it insulting, frankly,” Green said. “I think it was a good faith gesture to try and address the capital needs of the fire company and find this offer to be insulting. With our improvement costs, this is not possible.”

Green also took issue with a stipulation in the proposed lease contract the fire company could restrict parking on the leased lot if there’s a special event at the fire hall, referring to a possible wedding on Berlin Fiddlers Convention resulting in the parking not being able to be accessed. Councilman Jay Knerr agreed if the town paid for the improvements it should have full access to the site. 

Moore apologized if the offer was viewed as “insulting,” but asked Green and town officials to realize, “we are not going to bid against ourselves.”

“I am not going to draft a lease that does not benefit my client in the way they have asked me to,” Moore said. “These folks have their directive from their company, and it is our ask. We believe we are giving you a benefit as you all are giving us benefit.  … I say, respectfully, I think you would rather give what you get off this parking lot to the fire company rather than to a private owner in the town of Berlin.”

Council Vice President Dean Burrell agreed with Green and Tyndall the proposed annual fee is not acceptable for the town. 

“With the improvements that will be needed on the property to allow parking, I think the $150,000 is unreasonable. If we had $150,000, we would not be doing this with a parking lot, we would be funding what you need for capital,” Burrell said. “To put that number out there at this time in the negotiation, I really do believe is unreasonable and if we are going to be in this thing together to try and facilitate additional funding for the fire company … I think what the mayor has suggested as an initial lease price is not unreasonable.”

Town Attorney David Gaskill suggested the council members review the proposed lease privately and return for future discussions. Tyndall asked the fire company to reconsider the lease amount and return with a different number by the end of June.

“I hope we can soften this a bit and try to make it work for both sides,” Tyndall said.

Fitzgerald suggested as a first step before the BFC counter offers for the town to do due diligence on its own as far as estimated parking spaces and cost to construct the parking lot.

“I think there needs to be some sort of review on the town’s side to figure out a rough cost of those improvements. … if we can get that number, then I can get with Mr. Moore and report back to the membership the lease amount, but we are going to get ‘x’ number in improvements,” Fitzgerald said.  

The town plans to seek guidance from its consultant DBF to explore the number of parking spots on the property along Harrison Avenue and to determine an estimate to improve the grass area into a parking lot. A previous study calculated about 80 to 100 spots on the grass area. 

This story appears in the June 13, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.