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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Berlin council approves ‘Tyson’ bond

(Nov. 12, 2015) Berlin is in the final stages of acquiring the former Tyson’s Chicken plant following the Town Council’s unanimous vote to issue obligation $3 million in general obligation bonds to buy the 68-acre property from Berlin Properties North LLC.
The land deal, which also includes the unrelated purchase of a six-acre parcel on Flower Street, is projected to cost $2.5 million, with the remaining $500,000 going towards redevelopment of the former industrial acreage.
The vote came after a public hearing at Town Hall on Monday, when Mayor Gee Williams and several members of the council fought to assure residents their taxes would not be affected by the purchase or eventual multi-phase development of the plant.
The council agreed last December to buy the property, providing the results of an appraisal, an environmental study and a feasibility study were acceptable.
 The appraisal and environmental report came back to the town’s satisfaction, and Williams said on Monday the feasibility study, conducted by Baltimore firm EDSA, was due back soon.
Williams said the study explored “around a half dozen different templates” for a large-scale recreational facility on the property, the could include amenities such as an indoor swimming complex, an outdoor skate park, an amphitheater and several walking, hiking and biking trails.
He added that nonprofit and private enterprise partners would help develop and operate the amenities and that each would have to he financially self-sustaining.
“A very critical part of this will be developing an [economic plan],” Williams said. “It won’t be just the town of Berlin going in and building and developing and maintaining and operating these facilities.
“This is a property that we’re taking from the outhouse to the penthouse in terms of its value to the community,” he added. “It has been an environmental headache – it’s just been an embarrassment to an otherwise very nice town.”
Still, several residents in attendance pushed for assurances that the town would not be forced to raise taxes. Pressed if the bond could be paid down using tax dollars if the new facilities did not generate appropriate revenue, Williams said, “If we’re that damn incompetent that’s what will happen.”
“The days when this town is constantly on the brink of [asking] how are we going to pay our next bills is part of our history,” Williams said. “Now we have to determine how are we going to responsibly and financially take advantage of the many opportunities … that has been earned over multiple generations.
“The future’s not guaranteed,” Williams added. “Guess what – it’s never been guaranteed. Doing nothing guarantees you nothing, and that’s what happened to this town in most of the 20th century.”
Councilmember Lisa Hall observed that the town has been extremely successful in obtaining state and federal grants for a number of projects, and that it would seek grants to help develop the Tyson property.
“There’s a lot of money available through the federal government and the state government for sustainable grants, taking an eyesore, taking an industrial piece of property, and turning it into something that can be used for the whole community,” she said.
Hall added that the transformation of the Tyson property would protect Berlin business by preventing it from being used again as an industrial site.
“[It] will never go back to industrial use … there will no longer be chicken trucks with live chickens, rendering, etc. going in and out of Berlin,” she said. “We all forgot about that, but that was part of everyday Berlin when that plant was in operation.”
Williams said Berlin was second in the state only to Baltimore City in grants obtained during the last eight years, including $1.9 million for stormwater improvements alone.
“I know it may seem somewhat daunting, but given the things that we’ve overcome in just the last 30 years – this is a natural part of the process,” Williams said. “This is not something ominous – it’s an opportunity.”
Councilmember Dean Burrell said members of town government were also part of the tax roll, and that he was certainly not in favor of raising his own taxes.
“If we were going to be in your pocket, it’s my pocket too,” he said. “If this was not a doable project I would be sitting out there with you leading the bandwagon [because] just like you I’m concerned about my pocket. I have to pay the same tax and fees that you pay. We’re not looking to be in no one’s pocket concerning this Tyson property.”
Twenty years ago, Councilmember Elroy Brittingham said, the council was rallying against the industrial use of Tyson.
“I got threats called to my house because I was fighting against the Tyson plant,” he said. “All that kind of stuff was boiling over in council.”
Brittingham said that was in stark contrast to the feelings he had looking at mockups of a recreation facility EDSA showed off during feasibility work sessions in September.
“When I look at these plans … I was so excited [by] the potential of what can be there,” he said. “It’s so much that can be there and operate, and operate for a profit.
“I’m like Dean – I can’t afford to pay no more taxes, but I think it’s going to generate some revenue [and] everybody is going to be excited about,” Brittingham added. “In the next 10 years it’ll be something we can look back at and say, ‘I’m so glad that we did this.’”
Finance Director Natalie Saleh said the town would seek solicitations from banks immediately following the acceptance from the council, with a likely settlement date of Feb. 15. She speculated that interest rates would range from 4.6 to 6 percent.