Old Firehall to undergo renovations, becoming apartments

Terry RogersBusiness, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Exterior drawing of renovations planned for the old firehouse in Milford.

The former Carlisle Fire Company building located at 11 North Church Avenue in Milford will gain new life after Milford City Council approved a conditional use authorizing DE OZ Property Management to renovate the building into 16 apartments. According to Dan Bond, a partner in DE OZ Property, the letters “OZ” stand for Opportunity Zone.

“That building has been empty since the state offices moved out, I think, 12 years ago because of flooding issues,” Bond said. “When we had our last big downtown flood, they had a couple of feet of water. The building is probably the lowest relative to water level of any of the downtown buildings. We did our due diligence before we bought it and found that Milford’s code would require that everything be above that, I think six and a half feet above the first floor elevated to address flooding.”

Bond stated that it was not feasible to raise the former firehouse to protect it from flooding, Instead, the decision was made to convert the first floor into parking spaces and limited storage with vents placed around the foundation of the building that would allow any floodwaters to flow through without causing damage to the structure.

“I had been talking with the previous owners about taking advantage of the fact that this was an historic building,” Bond said. “It’s listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places which means you can get tax credit support from the state and federal government that are substantial. It is also in the Downtown Development District that provides 20 percent reimbursement of hard costs. There are also energy and energy efficiency grants and low cost loans.”

Bond explained that he had taken on many projects in historical buildings throughout downtown and had encouraged the previous owners of the firehouse to consider rehabbing the building, but they did not. When the Opportunity Zone program began a few years ago and Bond discovered that a large portion of north Milford was in an opportunity zone, he felt it was a good time to look into investing in more property.

Floor plans of apartments planned for the former firehouse in Milford

“If you are doing apartments downtown, the first floor is supposed to be commercial, but it is understood why I can’t do commercial in this project,” Bond said. “I have also purchased the property across the street which has a one-story office building on it with 45 lined parking spaces. We are talking to a non-profit about renting the building, but they don’t need all those spaces, so that is additional parking the tenants in the apartments can use.”

The apartments will be middle-income apartments, not luxury or low-income, but designed for working adults such as nurses, hospital technicians and young people who are just starting out in a career. He stated that they intend to keep as much of the historic features in the building, including pressed metal ceilings that are still visible inside. The exterior of the building will not change significantly although there are plans to open up a central entrance where fire engines used to enter the first floor with an automatic garage door option for secure parking under the building.

“We are hoping the city will accept an offer from us to give them a strip of land alongside the Mispillion River,” Bond said. “We made a formal offer to the city that we will give them the strip of land wide enough to extend the Riverwalk alongside the old firehouse as that is one section where the Riverwalk is not contiguous. So, we have offered to gift them the strip of land.”

Bond stated that the strip of land may be looked at as a gift horse as there is a concrete bulkhead that will need repair. If the city takes it over, the bulkhead will become the responsibility of the city. However, there is a small asphalt area that was parking for the firehouse next to the land the company wants to gift to the city. Because the firehouse will hve geothermal heating and air conditioning, wells must be drilled and the intention is to do so in the triangular piece of land, then cover the wells with grass. Bond is willing to allow the public to use that triangular area as park land adjacent to the Riverwalk.

Councilman Dan Marabello asked if the units would have washers and dryers to which Bond replied that there would be stackable washers and dryers in each unit. Because the Opportunity Zone funding requires that he hold the investment for ten years, Bond did not believe the units would become condominiums and that they would remain rentals. He mentioned that Independent Services, the non-profit who may move into the small office building across the street had mentioned purchasing the old firehouse after ten years as all units would be handicap accessible. Independent Services is a federal non-profit that provided services to handicapped people in Delaware. Councilman Marabello asked what would happen to the extra parking spaces if the other property were sold.

“We are actually thinking ahead to other projects we might do,” Bond said. “We’ve thought we might like to develop that and we have in mind townhouses which we would need city permission to build. We would probably take down the office building that was built in the 1970s, but if you have townhouses there, they would have to be like the beach with just two spaces for each apartment. I would expect we would put the townhouses along the Riverwalk and then there would be additional parking for guests.”

Councilman Marabello expressed concerns as when there are plays at the theater, parking can get saturated quickly, so he was a bit concerned about tenants not being able to find a place to park.

“I’m frequently over there and don’t see that there’s ever a problem either on the street or in the parking lots,” Bond said. “Southwest Front Street is a little bit far away fro the tenants. We looked at the laundromat where there’s a secondhand store there right across Southwest Front Street. The owner isn’t interested in selling that, but we could maybe in the future buy that and put parking there. Avenue Methodist Church has a small lot, too, that’s not used frequently, a small section near the Century Club and that is a possible place for additional parking if we can get an agreement with the church or something. But right now, it is certainly not a problem with parking.”

Councilman Jason James expressed an interest in keeping the small park area open to the public as he knew of citizens who enjoyed going to that area to fish. Council approved the conditional use unanimously.

“I vote yes based on the Board of Adjustments approving all of the variances,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “It’s important to keep the characteristic of the buildings that are historical and that districts stay historical. I’m happy about that. Mr. Bond, I know the work that he does and has done, and it also complies with our comprehensive plan. This building has been empty for a very long time and I’m really happy that you’ve had the interest and other team members have come forth to make this a wonderful unit for citizens or whomever comes to our town. We need that affordable housing.”

Councilman James felt that it was important to preserve as much historic value as possible and that the project would assist the workforce in Milford.

“I think this is a great investment in downtown Milford and a group that’s investing in it is well respected,” Councilman Todd Culotta said. “I think its great to see this building finally used. I mean, I moved here in 1982 and I can’t remember this building having a lot of use other than maybe some state offices. This is great for Milford.”

Bond is asking anyone who may have memories of the old firehouse, especially if they have photos of the interior of the building and events that occurred at the former fire company building to contact him.




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