Friday, July 31–Old Tyson Land Becomes Part Of Berlin

BERLIN – The former Tyson poultry processing plant is now part of the town of Berlin, after four Mayor and Council members voted unanimously Monday night to approve the annexation.

While the property has repeatedly been before the council in the last six years and has been an object of interest to townsfolk since the plant was sold, the approval of the annexation Monday night was a low-key affair.

Judging by the lack of audience members and the lack of participation in the public hearing held Monday night, the Tyson plant annexation was not a great topic of interest to the townsfolk.

Only one person, aside from Troy Purnell of property owner Berlin Properties North (BPN), took the opportunity of the public hearing to speak, and that speaker hailed from Ocean City.

Purnell, elected to the town council last fall, recused himself from voting on the matter.

The only change to the proposed annexation was a redrawn setback line to eliminate concerns that the original line went through a building, Purnell told the town council. “It’s smaller than it was previously,” he said.

The annexation brings only the defunct plant building into the town, leaving the majority of the 60-acre site in the county.

The Tyson property has been sitting empty for six years despite numerous attempts by the property owner to move forward with development plans.

Originally, Purnell and BPN intended to build a large project onsite, after razing the existing plant building, adding a mix of residential and commercial uses, from single-family homes and townhouses to restaurants and retail, to create a second focal area for Berlin.

After two years of working with Berlin on a potential annexation, the lack of an agreement with the municipality prompted Purnell to turn to the county, which instructed Purnell to go back to Berlin and work for a compromise.

Disagreements with the town centered on the apparent need for an additional wastewater facility on the Tyson site to support the proposed development. The town then proposed that BPN pay $5 million for the needed water and wastewater service. BPN declined the offer.

Further attempts to achieve annexation while adding an additional wastewater plant to the site, which also at one point was proposed to handle the additional wastewater capacity the town needed, fizzled when the County Commissioners limited Berlin to one plant in December 2007.

In February 2008, Purnell went before the town council with a request to begin another round of annexation negotiations.

The proposed annexation agreement was introduced in June 2009, beginning the formal public approval process, completed this week with the approval.

The approval comes almost exactly six years after BPN bought the property.

“It feels good. It really feels good. We’re making progress,” said Purnell of the positive vote.

Purnell and BPN continue to present the property for lease or outright sale. While some parties have shown interest in the building, no one has made an offer yet, Purnell said this week.

The property’s new location within the Berlin town limits is a definite attraction for potential property leasers or buyers, Purnell said. Being in the town means the old processing plant building has access to 36 units of water and wastewater service.

The new zoning, B-3 general business, is also more enticing to businesses, allowing a broad range of retail and commercial uses.

The four acres brought into Berlin are just a fraction of the property, dominated to the rear by a large pond. The remainder could become public open space.

“We’re just trying to do something with the whole entire property right now,” said Purnell. “We’ve talked to some people about turning the back pond into a park.”

Plans to possibly take the old wastewater treatment system out and collapse the 20-foot berm there would add more solid land to the area.

“It would make a nice little view. It would be Berlin’s first waterfront property,” joked Purnell.

The town must wait 45 days to formally record the annexation, a legally required window of opportunity to allow petitions against the annexation. If there are no challenges, the town then registers the annexation with Worcester County and Maryland’s legislative services office.

“Troy could have turned around and rented or leased it to an industrial company or organization and we’d have that same problem … I’m kind of glad we will have control over it and it won’t be an industrial site,” said Councilman Elroy Brittingham, who wielded the gavel Monday night in place of Mayor Gee Williams, who was absent.

“It’ll be a good thing for the town,” said Council member Lisa Hall.