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Council majority rejects Gillis purchase

The council voted against the plan proposed by Coastal Ventures Properties and will move forward on its own with the demo of the old Tysons plant.

Opts to proceed separately with demolition of former poultry plant buildings

By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer

(Aug 31, 2023) The verdict is in on the short-term future of Heron Park, or at least parcel 57, where the old Tyson’s building still stands.  The town council on Monday voted three to two to walk away from a land purchase and development deal with Palmer Gillis of Coastal Ventures Properties and to proceed with partial demolition of the building on its own.

Council members Jay Knerr, Dean Burrell and Shaneka Nichols voted to move on, while Steve Green and Jack Orris voted against the decision.

Only 10 months remain before the $500,000 demolition grant provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development expires, and the process to demolish even some of the building is months long. That includes drafting a request for proposals, review of proposals, awarding the contract and the actual demolition.

Town Administrator Mary Bohlen expressed concern that the town will probably have to ask for an extension to spend the grant money.

“Even if we move forward, we cannot guarantee that we can get an extension on the grant,” she said.

Also unclear as of Monday was whether the terms of the contract would be met if the town did not have a plan in place for development of the property.

“The grant exists because it recognizes that the fund looks to redevelop gray field development,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said.

“We need to make it clear that we plan to sell the land. We are still open to economic possibilities on the site,” Nichols said.

Before the council made its last-minute decision, the discussion moved in some unusual directions. During public comment, developer Jack Burbage came in and distributed a plan for the entire Heron Park property.

“I think the whole park should be planned out before we do anything,” Burbage said.

He said he had an architect create a plan for him, which he said included the project that Gillis submitted.

Burbage suggested turning the Tyson’s building into an office and commercial warehouse, with catering and mini-storage.  He also suggested a pool, a village green, train depot, affordable workforce housing, and a daycare center.

But the mayor and council only gave him the standard five minutes to present his plan and there was no further discussion.

Another discussion point came up related to Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDU), a water and wastewater capacity measurement, that are required for virtually all development projects.

Prior to the decision, council members Orris suggested the town should charge Gillis for the EDUs.

“EDUs are attached to the property. You don’t charge additional fees for the EDU,” Bohlen said.

“The process has been disturbing from the RFP to the subcommittee. We are back to where we started,” Green said.

 Gillis said he and his wife Sandy were shocked when they were notified of the late-night outcome of the meeting.

“The optics look horrible for the town. Their reputation is going to be diminished because of this,” Gillis said.

He also took issue with the fact that the town entertained a proposal from a competing developer [Burbage] before it terminated the exclusive negotiating period with his company.

Even so, Gillis said he would be willing to help the town navigate the demolition process.

During the mayor/council work session, Opteon Appraisal presented its updated appraisal of parcel 57. In 2022, the property was appraised at $800,000 as residential zoning. The updated appraisal assessed the property at $1.2 million as B2 business zoning, based on the assumption that demolition of the building would be complete.

Gillis’s original bid for three parcels, or about 20 acres, on the Heron Park tract was $1.7 million. The town owes $2.3 million on the property.