DDD expansion discussed by council

Terry RogersGovernment, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Milford City Council reviewed two options to expand the DDD program. The right section in yellow indicates option one and the left section in yellow indicates option two. The purple is the current DDD area.

City Council learned at a recent meeting that the Downtown Development District (DDD) could be expanded by 15 acres. Expanding the area could bring more investment into the downtown area, according to Rob Pierce, City Planner.

“The State of Delaware in November of 2022 updated their Downtown Development District program guidelines, which increased the local district acreage for municipalities our size from 185 acres to 200 acres,” Pierce said. “Right now we sit it about 184.89 acres. So, we’re just under the 185 which would allow us to increase by a little bit more than 15 acres. If Council desires to do so, areas adjacent to our current district were randomized by staff for low income populations and vacancy rates, availability of vacant land for development, property maintenance code violations, and blighted structures.”

Pierce explained that the city performed a similar expansion in 2019 with council deciding to expand into the northern section of the city. The first option was centered on South Washington Street and would include sections of Southeast Third, Southeast Fourth, Montgomery and Franklin Streets. This option was considered for the 2019 expansion as well. The second option incorporates God’s Way Thrift Shop on Maple Avenue, an area identified as a potential redevelopment project in the Rivertown Rebirth Master Plan. That option also includes sections of South Washington Street. Pierce also explained that the city could choose to leave the DDD as it was and wait until it was expanded again.

“Thank you, Rob, for putting this together. It makes it clear. I’ll give you somewhat of my opinion. Option one, which is mostly South Washington. I really think that street is definitely in need of rehabilitation. I think any incentives that we can latch onto right now would be great. I do appreciate that,” Councilman Todd Culotta said. “However, option two. I also like because it does include somewhat of a good chunk of South Washington, but it also includes gateway into the city when you’re coming in from Front Street. So, there’s a lot of value in that. And then also, with God’s Way, there’s commercial development, and those dollars usually are much easier to come by when there’s incentives like this than just residential. I do like infill, and I think that’s really benefited Jason’s area where a lot of new houses have been built. But I always thought the spirit of the DDD program was to rehabilitate and give you incentive to redo that house instead of tearing it down for historic value, but also because typically tearing it down and rebuilding it is cheaper.”

Councilman Culotta stated that he did not like the option to wait and see if the state expanded the acreage again, believing the city should “take the money where they can get it.”

Pierce stated that in the DDD program, the state offered a 20% rebate on investments over $25,000, a rebate on hard construction costs provided that at the end of construction once proof of payment is provided. There’s also a match at the county level. So, depending on what side of the DDD someone was on, Kent County provides a match a grant up to a certain amount and so does Sussex County.

“From a local incentive perspective, the city waives our building permit fee for any work being done no matter what level of investment, whether you spend $1 or $ million, we do not charge you a building permit fee. And we also waive our sewer, water and electric impact fees which can amount to around $6,000 or $7,000 for new construction,” Pierce said. “So, a typical home permit is around $11,000 in most of the portions of Milford you can get a permit for $3,000 or $4,000 for new construction here. The city also offers full tax abatements for new construction up to five years and full or partial tax abatements for 10 years for redevelopment. So, it depends. If you fully redevelop a property and improve its assessed value of 1%, you’ll get a full tax abatement for 10 years. So, we were really foregoing the majority of our revenue in this area.”

Pierce explained that the city often used the DDD program as a carrot when someone was found to have a code violation. The program is available whether the property is owner-occupied or rented. There are also no income eligibility stipulations. Councilman Mike Boyle recalled an in-depth discussion in 2019 when the northern section of the town was selected.

“I kind of remember we needed to put it up there first, but option one would be the next heavy consideration,” Councilman Boyle said. “This is probably the one area where we can have the biggest impact and it can be saved or become a nice little neighborhood if money is invested.”

Pierce will take both options to the state and once he receives feedback from them, will present the options to council for adoption. Current DDD projects can be viewed by visiting https://cityofmilford.com/ddd.





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