by Terry Rogers
On Monday, October 26, Milford City Council held a workshop in order to discuss how Council wanted to proceed with a plot of land along Milford’s Riverwalk. On October 12, Keith Fisher and David Perlmutter of Milford Development Associates LLC, presented a proposed apartment building for the property that was met with resistance from several members of council. Rob Pierce, City Planner, felt a workshop to discuss where Council wanted to head regarding the land would be helpful.
“What we are asking is whether the City wants to develop this this land or do we want to keep it as open space?” Pierce asked as the workshop began. “In 2018, we had a revision to our downtown master plan during a progress report from Arnett Muldrow Associates where they provided some other options to develop that property. That leads me to the question of what we want to do. During the progress update in 2018, we were shown a drawing that would include a pavilion, maybe some open green space for events, a playground, extra room for the Farmer’s Market, a splash pad, restrooms and other things that would benefit the public.”
City Manager Mark Whitfield explained that previous Council’s endorsed a mixed-use apartment building on the site which was why the City sent out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to see what options may be available.
“I think we owe it to the developer to make a decision on this,” Whitfield said. “I also think public land is hard to come by so giving it up is hard to do, but it depends on what you want to see on this land whether it will be recreational or economic.”
Councilman Todd Culotta, who supported the proposal for an apartment complex as long as it included a commercial portion during the October 14 meeting, admitted that public opinion and a closer review of the proposal changed his mind.
“My first thought when we talked last time were apartments alone would not work, but I would like to see mixed use,” Councilman Culotta said. “Since that time, I have had some time to talk to residents of the City and now I think we only get one chance to utilize public space. Overall, I would like to see it remain open space. I would like to see some type of Can-Do type of playground like we have behind the Boys & Girls Club to attract families and people downtown.”
Councilman Doug Morrow, who stated that he was on Council when placing a mixed-use building in this space was discussed and again when the idea came up to keep it as open space in 2018.
“The drawings they presented were very nice,” Councilman Morrow said. “It had a nice splash pad, some chairs and open space along with the basketball court. I am more in favor of having it an open space. I think it is just too small for any kind of three or four story building which would take away from the surrounding area that is already a park. I would like to see the basketball courts stay. I would like to see the splash pad like they have in other cities, like Bethany. I can see space for food trucks and it is in the center of town where we hold our festivals. I would rather not give it to a developer for nothing.”
Both Councilmen Andy Fulton and Jason James agreed with Councilman Culotta and Morrow, both agreeing that once open space is gone, it is gone forever. Because this is space utilized by festivals and fairs every year, both Councilmen felt that keeping it open space was the better solution.
“We have one shot at it,” Councilman Mike Boyle said. “Plus, to have it be developed on that side, there are wetlands, a well-head protection area, there is a sewage plant. We are putting work into the basketball court right now. There is so much we can do to help the kids in this town and that basketball court is one of them. There are so many things that leaving this open space could bring families downtown while also giving the kids who live downtown a place to play.”
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson recalled when the idea of a mixed-use development was proposed to the City, but was not pleased with the idea of a large apartment complex that would only benefit residents.
“I still don’t think the mixed-use is a bad idea,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “I wanted something that would allow people would find shopping, living areas and recreation. I definitely never want to see the basketball courts gone or space for walking gone, but several people contacted me who have been in Milford their whole lives and many, especially young millennials, were very excited about this development going downtown. They felt it would be an attribute to the downtown area, more or less thinking it would create an up-and-coming Milford. I will say that I was not pleased with the development itself as I thought the beautification would be more grand. We thought it would bring lots of individuals in who like that kind of lifestyle, but it is very controversial about the recreation part. I don’t disagree with my fellow Council members at all and will agree with the majority if they prefer to keep it open space.”
Pierce explained that the drawing presented was not the final project and that no matter what was built there, Council would have control over the land use, what the building looked like and more.
“I agree,” Councilman Culotta said. “I was one who spoke for this. We will work with any developer who wants to enhance downtown and who wants to beautify downtown. I just don’t think this piece of property is the right one. I do think there is a need for living space downtown, but this particular spot is better for recreation.”
Both Councilmen Dan Mirabella and Brian Baer echoed the sentiments of other council members. Councilman Baer even suggested upgrades to the basketball courts, such as lights that would go off at 9 PM for those who wished to play after dark.”
Council voted unanimously to include the matter on the agenda for their upcoming Council Retreat in order to have a more in-depth discussion.