By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
Seek committee of experts to develop better approach to use and development
(July 20,2023) During the final meeting of the week on the future of Heron Park, the members of the Planning Commission recommended putting a pause on the development proposal by Palmer Gillis of Coastal Ventures Properties.
Instead, the commission proposed setting up a new committee of resident experts that could review the situation and come forward with recommendations.
This decision came after a long debate by the commission members.
David Engelhart, the planning director for the town, noted that residents were focused on retiring the $2.3 million debt Berlin has from the purchase of the property. But he said there will be additional expenses, such as the costs for water, sewer, electricity, roads and sidewalks. He expects the cost to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Why don’t we have Palmer [Gillis] pay for the road? If nothing else it should be a 50/50 split,” said Chris Denny, the chair of the planning commission.
Engelhart also reminded the commission that the clock is ticking on the $500,000 demolition grant the town has lined up from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the demolition of the structures on the property left over after its one-time owner, poultry processor Tyson, departed town.
“If we lose that grant, it’s a death knell for further grants. You don’t do that in the grant world. It will not be good for the town.”
“We almost know that the demo will cost considerably more than the grant, a considerable amount. But we don’t know that until we know what we are doing there. Our town engineers are doubtful that it will be enough for demo and clearing the debris,” he said.
Engelhart said the town will have $450,000 to spend on demolition after the requests for proposals are issued and those costs deducted.
In addition, a building on parcel 191 of the 63-acre piece of land is being used by the town to store heavy equipment.
Commissioner Matt Stoehr raised concerns that it could cost more to buy a new building for that storage than what the town will get for the property?
“This is the largest piece of property left in town and it’s going to become very valuable. We should not be essentially giving it away for the price that is in this contract,” Ron Cascio said.
“Financially it’s looking tough,” Stoehr agreed. “We are losing tons of good land and not really benefiting.”
Pete Cosby also expressed concern about the value of the property and the unknowns related to environmental issues there.
“The contract is not clear enough about environmental issues and who is responsible. We need to find out what we own and what it is worth. I would say use the grant money to tear something down and give this more thought.
“This property will become more and more valuable with time. Demand is always going to be there. I don’t think we know the value of what we have. Or the liability of what we own. We need to know that before we sell it,” Cosby concluded.
With that, the commission recommended that the mayor and council put the contract on pause so a committee of experts from the community can develop a better plan and to use the demolition grant.