BERLIN – Various options, including a potential agreement with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, appear to be on the table for Heron Park in Berlin.
Though Mayor Zack Tyndall canceled a meeting with Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials last week, he says the town is still interested in working with the agency on Heron Park. In addition, the town is in the process of putting together a request for proposals (RFP) regarding parcels 410 and 57, the portions of the park closer to Old Ocean City Boulevard.
“We have been discussing the sale of the property over at Heron Park and what we should do,” Councilman Troy Purnell said at Monday’s council meeting. “I’d like to see us go ahead and schedule a meeting … to go ahead and discuss that, get all of our feelings and decide which direction we’re heading. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people interested in giving us proposals.”
On Aug. 23, the council met in closed session to discuss a written offer received for a parcel of Heron Park. Mayor Zack Tyndall said in an interview Monday that parties had expressed interest in both parcels but that the only formal written offer had been for parcel 57, the 9.35-acre southwest portion of the Heron Park property off Old Ocean City Boulevard, adjacent to the railroad tracks. Tyndall said the council had opted not to pursue it.
Last Friday, Berlin officials were scheduled to meet with representatives from DNR and Berlin resident and business owner Ann Hillyer.
“I spoke with Mayor Tyndall months ago about conversations I had with colleagues at DNR about Heron Park,” Hillyer wrote in an email to council members. “I told him that DNR may be interested in helping Berlin both reduce debt burden using Program Open Space funding. They were also interested in helping Berlin clean up the park to make it more usable to residents.”
Friday’s meeting, which was months in the making, was set up to discuss those possibilities but was canceled by Tyndall a few days before it occurred.
“On September 7, only three days before the meeting, Mayor Tyndall asked me to cancel the meeting,” Hillyer wrote. “I told him I thought this was a bad idea; that it would make Berlin look bad; that it was disrespectful to the state staff who were willing to come to Berlin from Annapolis to explore options to help the town; and that Councilman (Jay) Knerr and the town manager were both able to host the meeting.”
Hillyer said she was writing to express her frustration with the meeting’s cancellation.
“At best, the cancellation was not only unnecessary, but unprofessional,” she wrote. “At worst, the mayor intentionally subverted a promising opportunity that would benefit Berlin and our taxpayers. He did this despite other Berlin officials’ availability. The town could lose a large amount of ‘free’ money due to his decision.”
Tyndall, however, said he wanted to reschedule the meeting.
“If we can find any way to partner to make Heron Park more financially feasible, I’m totally open to that,” he said.
Council members said they were surprised last week to learn the meeting was being canceled. Purnell said he didn’t know why the informational meeting couldn’t have gone on without the mayor. Knerr, who reached out to DNR’s Phillip Hager and Heidi Dudderar after Hillyer initiated a conversation in June, was frustrated to see something months in the making stalled. He said DNR could potentially purchase the park or a part of it, help clean it up and then deed it back to the town. That scenario would ensure open space in Berlin and address some of the debt associated with the park.
“This would have been such a huge win for the town,” he said.
Despite the mayor’s interest in rescheduling the meeting, Knerr says it will be difficult setting up another time to get the high-level officials involved to Heron Park.
“Canceling the meeting was a mistake,” Knerr said. “It will be difficult to make that happen again.”
Following discussion at Monday’s council meeting, municipal officials are expected to get a draft RFP regarding parcels 57 and 410 to review in the coming weeks. The town is also waiting to hear later this fall whether it will receive a strategic demolition grant from the state that would enable it to tear down the dilapidated building on parcel 57.