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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Berlin Council outlines 2022 goals

Cutting park purchase debt leads list of priorities, along with new community center

By Greg Ellison

(Jan. 6, 2022) Long-term goals, such as selling parcels in Heron Park and planning a new community center, along with recent conversations about short-term rental regulations, are among the Berlin Town Council’s priorities for 2022.

In early December, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development awarded Berlin a $500,000 Strategic Demolition Fund Grant to raze the former Tyson poultry plant at Heron Park.

After issuing a request for proposals for parcels 57 and 410 in Heron Park in November, the council last month agreed to include a third section, parcel 191, which adds 1.5 acres to the roughly 16-acre package.

Councilmember Jay Knerr anticipates working with developers to find a good project for the three parcels in the overall 63-acre Heron Park during 2022.

“The sale of these lots will significantly reduce the overall debt service that the town now pays,” he said.

In 2015, Berlin paid roughly $2.5 million for the land along Old Ocean City Boulevard where the Tyson poultry plant was located.

The town purchased the land from Berlin Properties North, which counts Councilman Troy Purnell among its ownership, with an associated $200,000 annual debt payment through 2045.

Councilmember Jack Orris is focused on laying groundwork for Heron Park development, along with other infrastructure concerns.

“We need to review and address capital projects … including new water meters and a new well,” he said.

Proceeding with demolition work at Heron Park is also topping the list for Councilmember Shaneka Nichols in 2022.

“Let’s get this building demolished and have the space cleaned up so we can get a more efficient price,” she said.

Nichols is optimistic the clear view will aid development.

“With the land being cleared, hopefully prospective purchasers … are able to see their vision more clearly with an open space,” she said.

Developing plans for a new community center to replace the aging Flower Street multi-purpose building is also a primary driver for council members.

In June, the council voted to establish a committee of residents to examine the issue.

Championing the proposal last summer was Councilmember Dean Burrell, who noted Flower Street was a proposed location but consensus had yet to be reached.

“We have talked about it and passed around ideas, but never got community input,” he said.

Knerr hopes to continue pursuit of grants in 2022 to fund the community center project.

“Given the historical significance of this property, we should also apply for state and Federal Historical Site registration,” he said.

In September, council members voted unanimously to purchase the Flower Street property for $45,000. Totaling less than an acre, the site was the location of the former Flower Street School that served the African-American community before it was shuttered in 1970 after Worcester integrated schools.

The site is home to SHORE UP, a nonprofit organization that helps people become economically self-sufficient, and the Berlin Community Improvement Association’s multipurpose building.

Nichols is looking to chart a path for the oft-discussed project in 2022, while also anticipating formation of the Community Center Development Committee.

“Some clarity on that should be coming in the next few weeks,” she said.

Orris, who initially proposed the committee last June, is also focused on recruiting residents for the development committee.

“The community center planning is something we should continue to work towards,” he said.

Knerr raised the prospect of approving a short-term rental ordinance in 2022.

“We need to pass sensible short-term rental regulations,” he said.

In June, the council revisited regulating short-term rentals within town limits. The issue was examined in 2018 when no action was taken.

Short-term rentals are classified as property rented for up to 28 days, with longer stays deemed month-to-month.

During the June discussion, Planning Director Dave Engelhart said in 2018 the prospect of rental licensing regulations garnered both proponents and detractors.

Engelhart said the greatest concern expressed by local property owners involved the possible harm short-term rentals might do in R-1 and R-2 single-family home districts.

Another issue raised by residents was the possibility that investors would buy multiple properties to serve as rental units.

During a council meeting in December,  the topic drew extensive commentary from residents with concerns about limiting property rights.

The council is planning to solicit further public opinion after refining the proposed rental ordinance in early 2022.

Nichols feels encouraged that the hot-button topic would finally be addressed this year.

“The hope is to get to a place in 2022 where there is some type of establishment of what the regulations will be,” she said.

Purnell said his focus for 2022 remains unchanged from prior years.

“It’s the same goal and objective I’ve had since day one,” he said. “Trying to make sure there’s enough money put aside for reserves.”

Purnell stressed the importance of establishing replacement reserves for future capital projects and infrastructure needs.

Despite the town being awarded $4.06 million through the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, Purnell is focused on needs after the covid relief package is expended.

“We’re way ahead of the curve with four million dollars from the federal government,” he said. “That helps a lot, but going forward once that’s gone, and it will be, they’ll be a whole lot of things we’ve got to be putting money aside for in the future.”

ARPA funds must be allocated by December 2024 and spent by December 2026. The council is slated to solicit public comment on allocation early this year so it can earmark funding for FY23 budget considerations.

Purnell said the mayor and council typically covered capital projects from budget surplus in past years.

“I’ve just never been comfortable doing it that way,” he said. “We got tight here a few years ago.”

Purnell applauded Mayor Zack Tyndall for starting the discussion about establishing reserve fund accounts.

“We’ve never really done this,” he said. “I’ve got to give the mayor some kudos because he came out with a great basic plan to start talking about it, but now we’ve got to do it.”