Hellertown Borough Council members heard a proposal to turn a portion of a borough-owned property into what would be a privately-owned park open to the public, at a council meeting held Monday evening.The proposal, made by Neighbors Home and Garden Center owner Andrew Panick, is to turn a portion of the 2.2 acre former Tumminello property at 30 Main Street in Hellertown into a park accessible to the public.

According to the proposal, the park would occupy approximately one third of the triangular tract's acreage, and would be accessible from Main Street, via a one-way driveway and path.

"We'll probably put benches in there so people can come down to the Saucon Creek," Panick told councilors while displaying a professionally-drafted architect's rendering of the proposed park, which would be adjacent to greenhouses and parking for Neighbors, all of which would be located on the former Tumminello tract.

An existing outbuilding standing on the property, near the Saucon Creek, would remain, he added. "We would either paint the building or reside it to make it more presentable," Panick explained.

The greenhouses, if constructed, would be of the finest quality, and similar to ones he's observed during his travels, Panick went on to say.

"We've been throughout Europe looking at greenhouses This would be first class," he said.

After listening to Panick's proposal, council members sought more information about his plans, which can only become a reality if they approve a land transfer that would also have to include an equally-valued portion of Panick's property.

Such a transfer would be legal and would not require the borough to advertise the Tumminello property to other potential bidders, Borough Council Solicitor Michael Corriere explained to council member Richard Staffieri, after he expressed concern about the possibility of a negative reaction from anyone else who may have had eyes set on the grassy parcel of land deeded to the borough by the late Matthew Tumminello in the mid-1970s.

"Just from a legal perspective, you can swap like property and get like property in return," Corriere said.

Panick has proposed trading a portion of his garden center property, on which is located a 5-bay structure, for the Tumminello property, which he says he would use to expand his nursery business.

Panick has pitched the 5-bay building as a possible home for the borough's space-starved police department, and at earlier meetings council members have expressed openness to the idea.

If built according to the design presented, the park at Neighbors would be "something that would benefit the borough and the people of the borough in many ways," Panick said.

Council President Gail Nolf appeared to agree with this assessment.

"If the borough keeps (the Tumminello property), then it would take a long time before it gets developed into a park," she told fellow council members.

The borough's financial situation simply would not allow for the development of a park at that site at any point in the near future, she added.

"I feel it's a win-win situation. We're getting a park and we're getting clean commercial," Nolf went on to say. "I mean, how much cleaner can you get than a nurseryfi"

"It would be owned by Mr. Panick so it would be taxable," she added, when questioned by a newspaper reporter about the potential for tax revenue from the property.

Hellertown Mayor Richard Fluck said that the plan has its merits, but that more information needs to be forthcoming before any type of final decision regarding the fate of the property can be made.

"I like the plan but I certainly would like to see both appraisals" of it before a decision is made, he said, referring to two separate appraisals of the property that are currently underway. One appraisal has been requested by the borough; the other by Panick.

Those appraisals should be complete by the middle of September, and will be discussed at council's Sept. 15 meeting, Nolf said.

Prior to that time, Corriere will return to council with a definition of the phrase "public purpose," per a request made by council member Jennifer McKenna with regard to the discussion of the Tumminello property.

Hellertown Borough Council's next meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. in Borough Hall, on account of the Labor Day holiday, it was announced.

Josh Popichak is the editor of The Saucon News. He can be contacted via e-mail at jpopichak@berksmontnews.com

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