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Berlin to resume Heron Park building talks

Berlin council members are expected to revisit a discussion the potential sale of a portion of Heron Park in July.

Heron Park demo

Demotion of the former chicken plant at Heron Park is pictured.
Submitted photo / Bayside Gazette

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

Berlin officials are expected to once again discuss the potential sale of a portion of Heron Park in July. 

Members of the Berlin Town Council agreed this week to talk once again about selling parcel 57, the portion of Heron Park with the old processing plant, in the near future. While they shared their initial views during Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Dean Burrell advocated for a specific discussion item to be set for a future meeting. 

“I think this topic is of such importance to the well-being of the Town of Berlin it deserves to be included on our agenda,” Burrell said.

At the close of Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Jack Orris brought up the issue of Heron Park. He said now that the council had adopted a budget for the coming year he felt there was time to talk about parcel 57, where a portion of the old processing plant is currently being demolished.

Councilman Steve Green said he wanted the town to sell it but didn’t want to go through the entire RFP (request for proposals) process again, as the town had already gone through an extensive process and had opted not to sell. Councilman Jay Knerr agreed that he too would like to sell the parcel with some sort of abridged RFP process. Burrell questioned what that process would be. 

“One of the things that came out of our previous discussion is you don’t know what you want,” Burrell said. “I wonder if we’re there yet.”

He said the town purchased the former Tyson plant so it would have control over what would go there.

“The original tenants of that facility, it caused a lot of strife with the town with it being a chicken processing plant located within the corporate limits of the Town of Berlin,” he said. “I’d just like for us to give this discussion the time it needs.”

Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said the town didn’t need to go through the RFP process. 

Orris acknowledged the concerns from some council members had resulted in the last vote not to sell the property but pointed out if those concerns had been addressed a sale shouldn’t be ruled out. Last summer the council voted 3-2 to end all sale discussions with Coastal Venture Properties with Burrell, Knerr and Shaneka Nichols in favor and Green and Orris opposed to ending the negotiation. 

Knerr said his concerns had been the number of EDUs (equivalent dwelling units) attached to the property as well as any redevelopment’s potential to compete with downtown businesses. 

Burrell said officials needed more information, such as the amount of EDUs a potential skate park at Heron Park would need, as well as what would be required for the site’s future public works building, before the decision to sell could be made.

Mayor Zack Tyndall said there wouldn’t be a definitive answer on that until plans for the future facilities were completed. 

Burrell said if proposals were being accepted, he wanted anyone who was interested to be able to present. Tyndall questioned if there should be an asking price for the property.

“I think the conversation starts at $1.2 million,” Green said, referencing the last appraisal done with the property zoned commercial.

Bohlen said she felt officials needed to reach a consensus on what they would consider for the property. 

“That’s what we’re doing here,” Tyndall said.

Council members indicated they didn’t want the types of retail that would compete with downtown businesses but said they’d support healthcare facilities. 

Finance Director Natalie Saleh asked if there was an urgent need to sell parcel 57. She pointed out the town was going to build a public works facility nearby and would be installing utility infrastructure very close to the site, which would make it more valuable. 

“What is the need today to sell this property?” Saleh said.

Bohlen added that the sale of the property for $1.2 million would not satisfy the debt associated with Heron Park. 

“This is a valuable conversation to have, you can have it now, but to Natalie’s point I think we’d be doing a disservice to move too quickly,” she said.

Green said he wanted to sell the property because it was an embarrassment and an eyesore to the town. 

“What’s in it for us? To improve that property once and for all,” he said. 

Tyndall said he understood Saleh’s point as well as Green’s concern. 

“What we do know is it does not look good. We need to do something,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to see the building covered in graffiti as it has been.

Knerr said selling the property would put it back on the tax rolls. He said that when the RFP had been done before the town had only gotten two proposals.

“There’s not a lot of people willing to invest money in a property like that,” he said.

Tyndall said that if the council was again entertaining proposals for parcel 57, he’d like to reach out to entities that had expressed interest before — Natelli Communities, Palmer Gillis and Jack Burbage.

The council agreed to hear Heron Park presentations at its July 8 meeting. 

This story appears in the June 6, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.