If Berlin doesn’t get the state demolition grant in its second attempt, selling the southwest parcel – where the existing buildings are now – is an option for town officials to seriously consider regarding Heron Park’s future. At $100,000 or $150,000 – the two purchase offers presented recently – the town will take a drastic loss, but it might be the only way out of this debacle. The town has thus far rejected the offers and officials seem to want to wait on the status of the demo grant. Additionally, officials have extended requests for proposals for concepts for the park’s future. The issue is all these ideas will require money, which the town does not have to spend on the park.
Though the park purchase had much community support (including from me) when it occurred back in 2015, it’s looking today like it was a terrible decision. Berlin paid $2.75 million for the former poultry processing plant property. At that time, it was thought to be a good thing to provide Berlin control of future development potential. Additionally, it was believed to be a future site for kids’ activities, a dog park and birding and nature trails. Six years later, aside from birding opportunities and a makeshift trail, nothing has materialized. It’s actually cost the town a tremendous amount of money – approximately $300,000 for a chemical spill during cleanup work on the site and annual debt payments of more than $250,000 dating back to the purchase. It’s been a bad deal.
Hindsight is clearly showing it was way too much debt for a town like Berlin to incur, and there has been to date no opportunity to create a concrete plan for the area because of a lack of funding. Many volunteers including a well-intentioned advisory committee spent hours meeting to discuss the park, but efforts were always stonewalled because of the lack of funds to execute priority items. It was the chemical spill in 2019 that ultimately crushed the park. resulting in an extended closure and ongoing concerns about safety of the site.
The reality is the land buy has been a disaster for the town. Efforts currently must focus on breaking up the property and making the best of a bad situation. A canceled meeting with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at the property was a blown opportunity to try and get some state intervention in the form of a potential partnership to save the town some money. The hope is that meeting will be rescheduled, but it will be months most likely.
In the meantime, the park is now becoming a public safety issue. It’s no secret teens have been getting into the building for years, raising obvious concerns. The structure is growing increasingly dilapidated by the week. Though it may be some time until the town hears, there appears to be a lot hinging currently on a demolition grant sought through the state. The town was denied the grant previously, but this latest effort was bolstered with letters from local elected officials. If the town does not receive the demolition grant, officials should consider cutting their losses and seriously considering one of the offers on the table for the property that’s currently housing the buildings. Continuing to wait and hope for the best is not working and it’s costing too much.
The tactic of getting messages out ahead of the pop-up rally week is smart by the Town of Ocean City. It’s wise to use all mediums available to spread safety messages. This week Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro and Mayor Rick Meehan released You Tube videos encouraging people to stay out of Ocean City this weekend and to be aware inconveniences will be occurring.
“Our residents and visitors can expect to see law enforcement working together in great numbers. We will be implementing several different traffic patterns. However, where and when will be a fluid situation. There will be major obstructions to traffic and it will be uncomfortable,” Buzzuro said. “We want to remind our community – and I can’t stress this enough – if you don’t have any business in town or need to drive in town then don’t. Avoid doing so this weekend. For those that will be in Ocean City during this time period, we ask that you respect our community and obey all laws. If you witness any illegal activities during the event, please do not hesitate to call the police.”
For his part, Meehan struck a similar tone, saying, “I know a lot of our residents are concerned about the pop-up car rally happening this weekend. We are concerned as well. In the past, this unofficial event has wreaked havoc on our community. Laws were broken and local residents and businesses were disrespected. This is just unacceptable. That’s why this year we will again be stepping up all efforts to help protect our community. The special event zone in Ocean City and throughout all of Worcester County will not only lower speed limits but also greatly increase fines. There will be an even greater police presence than in the past and they will be strictly enforcing our laws and ordinances, including making arrests for dangerous or exhibition driving and towing vehicles. Unfortunately, increased enforcements will cause inconveniences for all of us, but we must work together to address the problems of the past.” Meehan added, “Ocean City has a long history of welcoming all visitors to our resort town, but we do expect everyone to be courteous and obey our laws. If everyone followed this simple request, we would not have the problems we are currently facing and everyone could enjoy this week in Ocean City. We are asking everyone – residents, local businesses and all visitors – to support our local, county and state law enforcement officers as they work tirelessly to protect and keep our community safe.”