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Letter to the Editor

Palmer and Sandy Gillis speak out on Heron Park deal

(The following was sent to the mayor and Town Council of Berlin).

Dear Mayor and Council members,

Monday’s Town Council meeting resulted in yet another failed agreement after at least a couple previous failures. As everyone already knows we have been negotiating on the purchase of lots 57, 191 and 410 for over a year.

This resulted in reducing the sale to include only lot 57, where the abandoned poultry processing plant stands.

As we understand, after the meeting of Aug. 28, when the council abruptly terminated our exclusive negotiation period, with no notice, in our absence, a Town Council member began an outreach to Mayor Zack [Tyndall] to revive our negotiations.

This resulted in the draft contract of sale that was presented Monday, Sept. 11. This was under the pretense that the majority of the Town Council found the terms agreeable. This understanding, again as we understand it, was from Sept. 1 thru Sept. 11. only to have the deciding vote renege on their representation of agreeable terms.

Sandy and I arrived at the town meeting Monday night, lured if you will, again, in good faith, with the understanding that an agreement had been reached. As the intended purchaser, we had agreed to the terms of the proposed contract and agreed to relinquish EDUs to cover lots 410 and 191, the lots that the town would retain ownership of and that Council member Jay Knerr requested.

Late in the day on the 11th we began to hear rumblings that the councilmember that reinvigorated the contract had changed their mind yet again. Obviously, we were surprised but attended the meeting anyway so that we could hear firsthand what the disposition of the agreement was and the council members’ vote. It never reached a vote.

During the discussions of the draft contract, Councilperson Knerr began a public shake down negotiation with us to enhance his political position. It is understood that he will be running for mayor in the upcoming elections, and it is our feeling that we were used to show his alleged tough position and savvy negotiating skills.

Additionally, it appears that Councilperson Knerr had reached out to, as he stated, several “developers,” who in his words stated that lot 57 would be worth more with some or more of the demolition competed. He would not, however, disclose who those expert developers were.

Experience was vetted out thru the RFP [request for proposals] process. Where were those “expert developers” during this RFP process? We, as professional developers, and builders do not conduct ourselves in the manner in which council member Knerr did after having made a representation in a negotiation. Our word is our bond.

To abruptly change positions in the wee hours of a negotiation, after the representations were made in the affirmative, is just not something that we would do, at least not without reaching out to the other party prior to the public event.

I personally made two failed attempts to discuss and review with Jay on the day of the meeting about what we were hearing on the street as another change of position. Not only were we surprised, but his fellow council members and the mayor were equally surprised. It seems as if Councilmember Knerr must earn back the fellow council members’ trust.

Councilperson Knerr states that he did not know of the EDUs that convey with the property. Shame on Councilmember Knerr. This has been a known fact at least since 2010 when Tyson first put the property on the market.

EDUs transfer with the property. You do not buy a home and then must pay for an EDU. You do not buy a commercial piece of property and then must buy the EDUs. Lot 57 is a COMMERCIAL PIECE OF PROPERTY. Councilmember [Jack] Orris even held up the deed that indicated that the EDUs were noted in the property deed. The EDUs’ have been brought up in previous council meetings.

Giving Councilperson Knerr the benefit of the doubt that he was not aware of what he was selling of taxpayer’s property, he certainly knew about the presence of the EDU’s when he reached out to the mayor to reinvigorate our negotiations. He certainly knew about them when I met with him on site on Sept. 1.

He certainly knew about them when he gave his consent for the updated draft contract. Why did he consent to the draft contract only to change his mind at the last minute and as a surprise act at a council meeting?

This gets worse and this is very shameful. The council has now instructed the town staff and a hired professional engineer to embark on developing plans and specifications for the demolition OR partial demolition of the structures on lot 57, taxpayers’ property.

It has become aware to me that some, perhaps even all the council members have even not been in the building OR surveyed the grounds. Some have indicated that they have “recently been in the building.” I sincerely doubt that.

The council members have now put the staff and the retained engineers in an impossible position of trying to read the council members minds to develop these demolition documents. Without having firsthand knowledge of the condition of the building and grounds, how are proper documents going to be developed that are reflective of the council’s demolition goals without their input from touring the building and grounds or in the very least having knowledge of the building, especially the insides, and grounds?

Is this good stewardship of the taxpayer’s money? Is this good leadership to the Town’s staff and engineers? To just delegate and direct the town manager and the economic director to instruct the paid professional engineer without the council members’ input and direction is just irresponsible on the Council’s part and will lead to them pointing the finger at someone else to blame when something goes wrong.

Council members, stand up and be accountable for your actions. This is too large of a taxpayer asset to do anything less.

If the Town’s leadership is to implement the very best plan for the benefit of the taxpayers, at a very minimum, they should tour the building with the staff and engineer to express their views on the demolition scope. As a Berlin taxpayer, we must insist on this very minimal effort of a town-owned asset.

The job requirement of Town leadership is to be responsible for income and expenses of the Town. In my opinion, having NOT reviewed the building and grounds with the staff and engineer is just irresponsible. Not becoming knowledgeable of the Town-owned asset and embarking on this journey is just not doing their due diligence. It is not responsible leadership.

Council member Knerr has had well over a year to understand what he is putting out to the public RFP and then deep into negotiations with ourselves as the preferred developer. Where has he been?

Our very long negotiation, for nearly two years with the Town, has been frustrating in the very least. We believed that we had accord with the Town at least 3 times only to have them abruptly change their minds. Going forward, if the Town determines that it will consider selling the property, our only advice is “buyer beware”.

In the interests of the Town and with in-depth knowledge of the structures and grounds at Heron Park, we have reached out to the Town to offer our assistance if desired.

Palmer and Sandy Gillis
Coastal Ventures Properties