By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
Town still undecided on ways to develop 17-acre property
(June 29, 2023) The continuing discussion of what to do with Heron Park resumed at the Berlin mayor and Town Council meeting Monday night, with officials still debating how to proceed with the development of a portion of it.
The former Tyson chicken processing plant land and buildings were purchased in 2016 by the town of Berlin for $2.5 million and has been used as park land since then. The town currently owes $2.3 million on the property.
The town requested proposals for the property last year and received responses from Palmer Gillis of Coastal Ventures Properties LLC and another for a mixed use development of 78 homes. The council agreed that the latter not the best fit for the property, according to Mayor Zack Tyndall.
The offer is for 17 acres of the property. Forty four acres will remain untouched.
A subcommittee of the council has been exploring options for the property. The members are Mayor Tyndall, Councilmembers Jack Orris and Jay Knerr, Town Administrator Mary Bohlen and Town Attorney David Gaskill.
Gillis offered the town $1.5 million for three parcels with an additional $200,000 earmarked for rails and trails and an amphitheater. His proposal included partial demolition of the existing structure. The discussion during the meeting ranged from an amphitheater and skate park to a garden center on the premises.
“We have two goals in mind. Bring forth a project to enhance the town. The problem is the second goal, to retire the debt on this property,” said Councilmember Jay Knerr.
“At the end of day, I would like to see us take a reset, work with the community and come up with something that is a win-win for everyone; a nice project and retire the debt. We need to slow down and take a reset,” Knerr said.
Tyndall suggested there were two options: sell the property to Coastal Ventures or keep the property and demolish the building themselves.
“We needed to get the site ready for development,” Tyndall said.
The town has a grant of $500,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the demolition of the building. Members of the council and Gillis suggested that the cost could be much more than that.
If the cost exceeded the $500,000, the mayor stated the rest of the costs would come from the town. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to leave the grant untouched.”
Speaking during the public comment phase of the meeting, Gillis said if he purchased the property, he would be responsible for a cost overrun if the demolition exceeded the $500,000 grant. He also noted that his company would be responsible for any environmental clean-up of the property due to the waste from the chicken plant.
“Heron Park was purchased to give the town control over what went there. We lived with a chicken plant. We wanted to make sure that what went there had the support of the community,” Councilman Dean Burrell said.
“Palmer, you have done a splendid job with what you had to work with,” Burrell continued. “We failed to give you the direction from our community. That is our own fault. We failed to bring folks into the room. For that, I apologize.”
In the end the council voted to take a pause on a decision to give them time to host two to three public meetings in August on the project and provide the proposal from Coastal Ventures to the Planning Commission and the Parks Commissions for their opinions. They also agreed to extend the contract with Coastal Ventures until the end of the year.