Friday, April 17–Berlin Enviro Park Plans Scrapped

BERLIN – Hopes for a new environmental park in north Berlin were dashed recently when the town concluded that funding to purchase the 7.85 acres of land would not be available for at least two years.

Mayor Gee Williams announced the end of the brief pursuit of the property at Monday night’s Berlin Mayor and Council meeting.

“The environmental park is not going to happen at the Nally property,” Williams said.

The town had hoped to use Maryland Program Open Space (POS) or other state funding to purchase the land. While Maryland state tax assessment records show that the land was most recently assessed at $387,290, the town appraisal revealed a higher value.

“The property appraised at $500,000,” said Williams. “[Property owner] Nally obviously wanted more than that. It’s kind of a moot point when we don’t have $500,000.”

Nally could not be reached for comment.

“Mike Nally really gave everybody time and due diligence to look at it,” said Kate Patton, director of Lower Shore Land Trust. “The town put a good faith effort forth. You can’t fault anybody.”

Berlin Administrator Tony Carson said it all came down to money.

“It certainly is a great idea for that location. The economic part of it wasn’t feasible for the town,” said Carson.

While the Maryland POS program has not been eliminated, that funding has dwindled for the near future, and substantial money will not be available until 2011 at the earliest, Berlin has been told.

The town said from the beginning that it did not plan to purchase the land on its own. Williams suggested earlier this year that the new park should be funded through a partnership with other entities or state grants, not just Berlin’s general fund.

Preliminary discussions this winter focused on purchasing the land specifically for an environmental park, not a recreational park, to offer walking and birding opportunities, demonstration conservation projects and green education.

A single home on the site, built in 1900, once belonged to prominent Berlin citizen Frederick Bruckheimer. Some had suggested turning that building into an environmental education center and headquarters for local conservation groups, if the park came to fruition.

Economics have now pushed the idea aside. “He can’t just sit around and do nothing with the property, waiting around for money that’s iffy right now,” Williams said. “He’s going to go ahead and pursue his plan to do some residential housing on the property.”

The Nally property is platted for 27 residential units.

 “From what I’ve seen, he has the best intentions and really wants to do a good project,” said Patton.

Grow Berlin Green Director Steve Farr is hopeful Nally will incorporate some open space concepts into the project.

“We are hopeful that there will be some opportunity to do something creative with the property even if it is developed,” said Farr.

The whole area along Harrison and Main St. is up for some changes, Patton said, and local environmental and town planning interests would like to see some kind of plan for the area governing conservation, roads, stormwater, and economic development, instead of piecemeal changes being made.              

“Right now is the best time to do it,” Patton said. “Let’s try to keep moving in the right direction, but if we’re going to do it right, we’ve got to pay attention.”