By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
Time running out on grant to help cover cost of razing old poultry plant buildings
(Aug. 3, 2023) The town of Berlin needs to make a decision by the end of August on what it wants to do with the Heron Park property, and as Mayor Zack Tyndall sees it, there are two options.
Selling parcel 57 and retaining parcels 410 and 191 for open space or keeping all of the parcels and using a $500,000 grant to demolish as much of the building structures as possible.
The property, which was purchased by the town in 2016 for $2.5 million, had been the site of a Tyson’s poultry processing plant, and while Tyson ceased operations there in 2003, it left its offices and plant standing when it departed.
The town has a grant from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development for $500,000 to help pay for the demolition of those building, but that grant needs to be fully expended by June 2024.
Tyndall said some people see that as a year to get the job done, but the process takes time.
“We still have to frame out the RFP (request for proposals) , take bids, award the bid and do the actual demolition.”
Palmer Gillis of Coastal Ventures Properties, who responded in 2022 to the town’s RFP for developing the property, has said he has about a four- to six-month process to go through to use the grant if he is awarded the contract.
Coastal Ventures submitted a response to the towns RFP in 2022 to buy parcels 57, 191 and 410 for $1.7 million to develop a mixture of commercial uses. When asked during the July 24 meeting with the mayor and council if he would be interested in purchasing just parcel 57, which is where the old plant is located, he said he would be.
In his original proposal, he planned to demolish part of the Tyson’s plant and rehabilitate another part of other uses. He would use the $500,000 grant the town received to pay for as much demolition work as possible and then assume the financial responsibility for any remaining demolition to be done.
“People see the building as something that is falling apart. Old Ocean City Boulevard is getting revitalized. Selling parcel 57 to Palmer is a logical fit,” said Tyndall.
He also noted that allowing Gillis to proceed would add to the tax base and add value to other parts of the town.
If the town chooses not to sell, it could use the grant to do the demolition itself, although the grant money will not cover all the expense, Tyndall said.
The $500,000 in the grant also will have to cover the costs of creating the request for proposal, leaving about $460,000 for the actual demolition, he said.
“I am not a demo expert, but $460,000 will not get us where we need to be,” Tyndall said.
“My advice to my colleagues is if we take this route, we need to get the parcel of property to where something else can be built there. Whatever the additional cost is, we need to have a plan to overcome that,” Tyndall said. “We have spent time rebuilding our reserves. I am not comfortable eroding that for this building.
“When you look at it from a risk standpoint, the town assuming the risk or demo and repurposing. It’s just more risk than I would like to assume as the mayor. Getting a partner in place to revitalize the building is much more advantageous for the town.
“That is what Palmer does. He is willing to assume the other liabilities outside of the demo funds. It’s the logical path forward.”
Not everybody sees it that way. In the July 24 mayor and council meeting, Councilman Dean Burrell was cheered on by some members of the audience when he questioned the rush to begin work on the property.
During the meetings over the past month, debates have occurred between council members and by residents as to what should be allowed on the property. While many people seem to be interested in a garden center and skate park, the community has flip flopped on residential housing, retail and restaurants.
Some residents have complained about the speed of the process for making a decision and accused the council of not being transparent with decision making.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions with the process so far,” Tyndall said.
The mayor said there were opportunities for public comment during the request for proposal process and when the council received the bids.
Based on a timeline that was circulated during the July 10 mayor and council work session, nine public meetings have been held on the Heron Park issue since March 2021.
During a public meeting in May 2022, town residents indicated overwhelmingly that the Coastal Ventures’ proposal was in line with what residents wanted, Tyndall said.
“We have had a tremendous amount of public input. I am a big advocate for gathering public thoughts.
Tyndall said that he hears from residents well beyond the public meetings.
“That’s not the only way I gather opinions,” Tyndall said.
He said some people are comfortable speaking in public, others pull him aside after the meetings or when they see him around town or at events to express their opinion.
“I look at my position as a representative, I need to do my research on the topic, listen to my constituents and pull all that together to make a decision on the best path forward.
“Our job is to know the financial position of the town and evaluate risks. Those things have to go into our decision making process.”
Tyndall sees that the big issues to be discussed if the town decides to sell one or three of the parcels are the price and types of development the town wants done on the property and for what duration.
“There comes a time when we need to act as a group in the best interests of the people of Berlin,” he said.
The next Mayor and Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 14 at Town Hall.