Heron Park Work Session Scheduled

BERLIN – In advance of a work session next week, town officials have shared a variety of information related to Heron Park.

On Monday, July 10, at 6 p.m., municipal officials will host a work session to discuss the proposed sale of a portion of Heron Park. A proposed contract, timeline for sale and appraisal information, as well as additional details, are available in the meeting packet. Mayor Zack Tyndall said that in the days following the work session, the town’s parks commission and planning commission would be weighing in on the issue.

“I hope following the work session, parks commission meeting, and the planning commission meeting, we can move forward with either Coastal Ventures Properties LLC’s proposal or the town demolition of the buildings,” Tyndall said. “We are less than a year away from needing to expend the strategic demolition funds and it may seem like it’s a year away but it will take several months to move forward with either direction.”

The town purchased Heron Park for $2.5 million in 2016. Last year, heeding calls to consider selling the property to reduce the annual debt service, the town entered into negotiations with Palmer Gillis’s Coastal Ventures Properties LLC—one of two entities that submitted a proposal for a portion of the property. The initial proposal from Gillis offered the town $1.5 million for three parcels — parcel 410, 57 and 191 — and would involve partial demolition of the existing structures to create a commercial project on the site. The trails and pond on the north end of the property would be unaffected.

Last week, the town heard from numerous residents as well as from Gillis himself about the proposal. Multiple residents told elected officials they needed more information about what was proposed before they could say whether they supported selling part of the property or not.

In the wake of those comments, this week the town shared the agenda for the July 10 work session regarding Heron Park. Within the meeting packet are countless details about the project as well as the proposal.

Some of the information included was initially shared by Councilman Jay Knerr on social media late last week.

“There is a great deal of misinformation out there so hopefully this will help to clarify some of that,” he wrote on Facebook. “This is not an endorsement of the project. In the upcoming month the town will hold a public meeting where the proposed project will be presented and will offer residents the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions pertaining to this property. Good or bad. It’s important we get this right so if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or any fellow council members.”

According to the facts shared by Knerr, the 63.67-acre Heron Park property is made up of four lots. Lot 52, which includes the park’s three ponds and nature trails, is not for sale. The lots that are for sale total 20.31 acres. Appraised value for the entire property as of April 2022 was $1.7 million.

According to that appraisal, lot 52, the area with the ponds and nature trail, is valued at $180,000. Lot 57 is valued at $800,000 while lot 191 is valued at $200,000 and lot 410 is valued at $700,000.

An update from Tyndall states that the town still owes $2.3 million on the property. In fiscal year 2023, the town paid about $182,000 in principal and interest. In fiscal year 2024 that figure is projected to be about $179,000.

Tyndall also shared restrictions included in the contract negotiated by the town and Gillis. Lot 57 would be restricted to operate as a restaurant or retail establishment for five years. Parcels 191 and 410 would be restricted to operate as a garden center for 10 years.

As far as the $500,000 demolition grant the town received to use at Heron Park, Tyndall said those funds had to be spent by June 2024. He said Davis Bowen and Friedel (DBF) would be drafting a request for proposals so the town could move forward with demolition.

“DBF is waiting to hear from the Town of Berlin about whether the RFP should be for the demolition of the entire building up to $500,000 or if the building will be strategically demoed to meet the needs of Coastal Ventures Properties,” Tyndall’s information sheet reads.

Coastal Ventures has offered $1.7 million for the property. While the amount represents an increase from what was initially proposed, Gillis has requested that $200,000 of the price be restricted for 24 months to help accelerate two town projects—the Rails and Trails bikeway and fundraising for a town owned entertainment venue. In both cases, if those efforts aren’t successful within 24 months the town can use the $200,000 however officials deem appropriate.

All of the documents included in Monday’s meeting packet are available to the public on the town’s website, berlinmd.gov.

According to the agenda, the work session will begin at 6 p.m. for a discussion on Heron Park. Comments from the public will be accepted.

The meeting is scheduled to adjourn at 6:55 p.m.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.