a bridge over a body of water

Council discusses strategic plan

Terry RogersHeadlines

a bridge over a body of water

City Council recently discussed community comments on their strategic plan

At a recent workshop, Milford City Council learned more about community comments regarding their strategic plan from Bill McGowan of the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration. McGowan was part of a process that began in November 2022 with community conversations and workshops held over a period of months.

“What we heard during the process was that growth is an issue,” McGowan said. “Residents want to see controlled growth and limited sprawl, but they also want more stores and amenities. You do have a good comp plan and a planner, so you are in good shape.”

Housing was another area where the community expressed concern with many wanting a variety of new housing provided as well as more attention paid to the price of new and existing housing. Some who responded at the meetings expressed skepticism about the role developers played in the type of new housing built.

“Housing, always, always, always in every small town, housing is a huge issue. How can I afford it? What does it look like? How do I take care of it? Housing in Milford not only is housing the place to live, it also speaks to the character of the town. It’s a beautiful town,” McGowan said. “You still have trees, you still have beautiful architecture. You need to pay attention, because that too can go away.”

McGowan explained that the majority of those who responded were proud of Milford and felt it was a beautiful town. However, many also expressed that more code enforcement was necessary.

“Folks are gonna look at code enforcement and less litter, it is all fairly common sense,” McGowan said. “This is the other piece, activities amenities. It’s kind of a secret piece of successful communities. And that’s an engaged and active citizenry, not by coming to public meetings, but do they show up at the sports leagues, do they go to the theater? Do they walk on the Riverwalk on a regular basis? These are kind of the subtle things that speak to a successful community. Particularly the idea that you need a public bathroom and I think you’ve got that all right. So that’s community neighborhoods, economic development, a better mix of businesses.”

In addition, McGowan pointed out that there was a perceived issue of homelessness in the downtown area and that downtown seemed to lack connectivity to the larger region. Some residents did not like the large state agency presence in downtown while others felt parking was inadequate. There were comments that the business permitting process was too slow and that a lack of jobs for younger people was a deterrent. When it came to public safety, residents mentioned high rates of youth crime, a lack of community policing, homelessness and code enforcement as problems in the downtown area.

“You have a fairly new police team, so a lot of these rated this lack of community policing. And I don’t want to get into this because the police chief, I think reports to the council. And I know this chief comes out of Wilmington and she does have a strong community policing background,” McGowan said. “If I’m not mistaken, because there’s a whole language around community policing, the whole philosophy and this chief of police gets it.”

Many of the people who live in Milford do not shop or play in town, according to responses at the meetings. A lot of residents go to the beach areas for recreation and shopping. Those that do shop in Milford are coming from Greenwood, Harrington and Felton, McGowan explained.

“So, folks that are moving to Milford and coming here with a little bit more wealth are not spending their money here,” McGowan said. “These are things you need to address with economic development.”

Residents expressed an interest in cycling and walking around Milford. However, many felt it was unsafe to do so without separate bike trails. Residents also were concerned about large truck traffic and would like to see additional public transportation options. Residents also felt that there needed to be better communication from local government and would like to hear more success stories about Milford.

“Milford is at a critical identity crossroad,” McGowan said. “Even with its location near resorts, affordability and the small town field, it is not viewed as a destination to live, work and play. That’s a little harsh, but that’s what is going on.”

As a result, McGowan offered three plan changes for the strategic plan that could help improve how Milford was viewed. One was to separate community engagement from fiscal responsibility to create priority areas. The second was to focus more attention on the Downtown River Rebirth Plan as well as the bicycle master plan. Finally, he recommended the city add an easy-to-use matrix as a pathway for progress.

“What I find is that all the different events that we have in this town, it’s the same people who volunteer, your same core volunteer base,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to pull more people to come in.”

Councilman Todd Culotta pointed out that Milford’s downtown area needed to be a destination to draw people in.

“I’m not even talking about events,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “You were mentioning that Little League is a gathering place. I find it very difficult to bring minorities in those areas. Now, I know why they’re not going into Milford Little League because they can’t afford it. Milford Little League has out priced itself to the point where most of the minorities, most of the lower income families, they’re not going to go because their kids can’t afford to participate. So, we’ve priced out.”

Councilman Jason James stated that council needed to figure out how to take the ideas from paper and get them in place.

“I’m yearning for that because we have opportunity to get people really involved and really engage and I know events are very important because it’s it that’s when you see everybody come together and sometimes the only time you see everybody comes together,” Councilman James said. “But if you don’t have economic development, the events just don’t have the draw. Because people are begging for more things like fondue, but that is a private industry owned by private business owners. But are we doing enough to promote those types of things, to attract those types of things?”

Councilman Todd Culotta agreed with Councilman James.

“Where we’re investing in, we attract the businesses that attract the jobs that attract the salaries. That money gets spent in the community, which creates better housing creates better events, creates better schooling, which then feeds back in to supporting those industries and businesses that continue to grow,” Councilman Culotta said. “So it all starts with economic development. Then we have to decide what does that mean. Is economic development getting fondue down here? Or is fondue a result of something like nationwide coming, taking over the hospital, creating jobs that offer average salaries of over R80,000? That to me is where we’re at, is where the focus is right now.

Councilman Culotta continued, using his own business as an example.

“Like I’m a contractor. Let me line up with that. When you build a house, the nice part of the house is the kitchen countertops and cabinets, the bathrooms, okay, that’s what you see,” Councilman Culotta said. “That’s the restaurant. That’s the things to do. But you need the HVAC, you need electric, you need the plumbing. That’s the industry right? So we’ve got to put all that in first before we can enjoy the kitchen and the things on the end. So that to me is like that is where is where that focus. So we bought this. We borrowed from ourselves to buy this land to build this business park where we have it that should be our laser focus, then all this stuff. And I’ve seen it happen.”

The next steps in the strategic planning process will be to incorporate council comments and finalize a plan. Once the plan is finalized, a public hearing will be held before council votes on the new plan in June.

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