Berlin delays sale of park land to review value

Heron Park property price awaits assessment update

By Greg Ellison

(March 3, 2022) Based on concerns expressed by many residents, Berlin City Council voted on Monday to request updated valuations for several plots in Heron Park before considering two purchase offers.

After issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for plots 57 and 410 in November, with plot 191 added in December, Berlin received development proposals from Gillis Gilkerson and Natelli Communities.

While Gillis Gilkerson’s land would include commercial and passive uses, Natelli Communities’ plan focused primarily on housing.

The two offers of more than $1 million would not be enough to compensate for the debt service of more than $2 million that Berlin wants to eliminate.

Berlin bought the land, which was the site of the former Tyson poultry factory on Old Ocean City Boulevard, for around $2.5 million in 2016 from Berlin Properties North, which counts councilman Troy Purnell among its owners.

Berlin is paying $200,000 a year until 2045 to erase this debt.

Gillis Gilkerson is offering to pay $1.5million for the trio of plots, with plans calling for a range of businesses including restaurants, offices and a garden centre.

Gilkerson also takes parking into account and includes multi-purpose courts and a dog-friendly park.

Finally, Gilkerson pledged to set aside at least two acres in Berlin to develop an on-site amphitheater.

In contrast, Natelli Communities offers a residential development with 78 single family homes and a 50,000 square foot commercial building at the front of the property.

Natelli Communities is offering $1.6 million for plots 57 and 410, while also offering to transfer five plots it owns adjacent to Stephen Decatur Park worth approximately $444,000.

The city council considered both offers on Monday in a public hearing originally scheduled behind closed doors.

Among the residents present was Gina Velong who asked if community access to open areas in Heron Park would be affected.

Tony Weeg, who opposed the housing plans, said Gillis Gilkerson has a strong track record of adaptive reuse projects.

“I think the project has the right spirit,” he said.

Ann Hillyer said other avenues should be explored before accepting either offer.

“There are options that would be good for a lot of people in town,” she said. “There are grants…and other funds there.”

Hillyer also noted that Natelli Communities’ bid would require the city to cover the costs of removing existing structures beyond the $500,000 demolition grant it was given by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Maryland.

“Which proposal puts more of a burden on city resources that will cost us money?” she asked.

Based on current offers, Hillyer backed the Gilkerson plan.

“It would put less strain on the city’s infrastructure, and they don’t charge for demolition,” she said.

City Administrator Jeff Fleetwood said both proposals were scored on measures drafted in conjunction with Planning Director Dave Engelhart, Deputy City Administrator Mary Bohlen and Public Works Director Jimmy Charles.

“The money offers were close,” he said. “We went back and forth on the use and redevelopment [as] both had additional incentives.

Fleetwood pointed to the more than two acres for an amphitheater proposed in the Gilkerson deal and the plots near Stephen Decatur Park offered by Natelli Communities.

Kate Patton, who once served on the advisory board for Heron Park, questioned the potential future costs to the city.

“Just because the city has received proposals doesn’t mean you have to accept either project at this time,” she said.

Patton said traffic would increase if housing plans were to continue.

Berlin Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Ron Cascio said commercial and housing plans undervalued the property.

“The goal here is to get out of debt and none of these proposals do that,” he said.

Council member Jay Knerr also spoke about debt service issues.

“People think selling it will eliminate our debt,” he said.

Knerr said Berlin was set to pay $2.4 million for the Heron Park property, with both proposals falling nearly $1 million below that figure.

Knerr said an additional sum of up to $500,000 could be added to debt service if existing structures used at the site were replicated elsewhere.

“We must also take into account the two buildings, one on the 410 and one on the 191, which would have to be rebuilt.

The buildings are currently used to house city-owned maintenance equipment, parts and machinery.

“That debt would be there for several years, it’s not just going to go away,” he said.

Cascio pointed to the need to review the zoning of the site. Currently, part of the land is zoned R-1 residential and part is zoned B-2 commercial areas.

“To just throw it out to the public… without doing our homework and finding out what the property’s value is to the city of Berlin, we would be remiss not to do that,” he said.

Cascio advised against accepting either offer at this time.

“We should just hit the brakes and downshift a bit,” he said. “Look at what these two offers offer and see if we can find something a little better for the people of Berlin.”

In response to board and public comments, the two developers, Palmer Gillis and Tom Natelli, addressed everyone present.

Gillis, who noted the proposals are “radically different,” said development plans have been in the works since last summer.

Gillis said he was hesitant to demolish existing structures on site.

“As a local builder, we did a lot of the construction work for this building,” he said.

Photo by Greg Ellison
Berlin City Council voted on Monday to request current assessments for several Heron Park plots before considering two recent development proposals.

“I don’t want to tear down a lot [because] there is so much value out there that can be repurposed, recycled and reused.

Natelli said feedback is welcome to determine which plans work best for the community.

“What we’re proposing is a conceptual site plan,” he said. “It’s not fixed.”

While acknowledging that new housing would impact city services, Natelli said his goal is to retain Heron Park as a community asset.

“We are primarily residential master planners,” he said. “We came up with what we thought was a conceptual basis for what our business thrives on.”

Gillis, who said his company’s plan would retain 40 acres of the site of about 60 acres for park areas, also noted that land values ​​are relative.

“Market value is what someone is willing to pay,” he said.

Council member Troy Purnell recommended obtaining up-to-date appraisals for parcels 57,410 and 191, with a later suggestion from Gillis to include the remaining approximately 40 acres as well.

Fleetwood said that although property appraisals typically take up to two months to complete, that time could be significantly reduced since the city recently assessed the site.

Mayor Zack Tyndall said discussions could be revisited at the March 28 city council meeting.

“We have to settle on some sort of decision,” he said.