by Terry Rogers
On Monday, December 10, Milford City Council approved a garden apartment townhome project that will be built on Northwest Front Street. The project, known as 200 NW Front Street, LLC, is the latest planned by John Ditomasso and Dan Bond who have rehabilitated many historic and iconic buildings in the downtown area. The project is also in partnership with Milford Housing Development Corporation using grant funds from the Strong Neighborhood Initiative.
“This project is for eight townhomes that will be built after demolition of the buildings that currently stand on the property,” Rob Pierce, City Planner, explained. “Currently, there are six single-family and two-family units on the property. This will subdivide the land into eight townhouse lots. All variances were approved by the Board of Adjustments and the Planning Commission approved the site plan.” Variances included the option to build up to 14 townhomes on the property and to reduce parking spaces to less than the required 2½ per home required under the code.
Ring Lardner of Davis, Bowen & Friedel, the engineer for the project, explained that they were able to redesign the initial plans and eliminate driveways for each townhome. Instead, there would be a common parking area behind the townhomes with access to the parking lot on Church Street.
“We understand that Front Street is a very busy road,” Lardner said. “By putting the entrance on the side street, this makes it much safer. We also had discussions with the neighbors who live adjacent to the property who were concerned about some of the plans. We initially planned to put the garbage collection in the center of the area behind the townhomes, but the new plan moves them farther to the back. By reconfiguring this area, we were able to get the 2½ spaces per unit in the parking area, so the variance is now unnecessary. We also plan to place white vinyl fence around the property to provide additional privacy.”
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson expressed concerns regarding the density of eight townhomes, commenting that even though Milford needed affordable housing, adding eight homes in this area might be too much. Councilman Todd Culotta disagreed, stating that the property was three blocks from downtown and high-density residential property was a benefit to the downtown area. Lardner pointed out that there were already six homes on the block so the project would actually only add two additional homes.
The project is planned for owner-occupied townhomes and Pierce explained that there are strict rules in the Stronger Neighborhood grant program that would discourage someone from buying the home and renting it, addressing a question by Nina Pletcher, a resident of Milford, regarding the capacity of each unit. Lardner explained that the townhomes were designed to be three-bedroom units and that code has limits on how many people can be living in so much square footage. The Strong Neighborhood program, according to Pierce, is designed to promote home ownership, providing a way for lower-income families to become home owners.
Latricia Davis-Western, who lives adjacent to the property, expressed concerns about parking in the area. There was acknowledgement from the Westerns that the developers had been flexible, agreeing to swap parcels of land with the couple in an effort to make the land run contiguously and moving the trash farther from their property. The Westerns were also pleased that the reconfiguration meant there would be the required number of parking spaces per unit.
In 2017, Milford Housing Development Corporation was given a $500,000 grant as part of the Strong Neighborhood Initiative. After the townhomes are built, they will be sold to families with incomes at or below 120 percent of the area median income. Delaware State Housing Authority allows the grant funds to be used for construction financing, but the funding eventually is passed along to the buyer. Each townhome buyer will receive $50,000 toward financing. This funding does not need to be repaid as long as the buyer lives in the home for at least ten years. Pierce explained that if the buyer turns the property into a rental within that ten years, they risk having to repay $50,000 to the state.
Council approved the project with a vote of 7 to 0. Construction will begin in the spring of 2019.