Several months ago, Springboard Collaborative, who operates a transitional housing pallet village in Georgetown, provided information to Milford City Council on how their village operates. Council has expressed interest in creating such a village in Milford to try to address a growing homeless population. The three locations included a parcel of land off of Milford Harrington Highway near the city substation, the location of the current police station when it is vacated after the new one is complete or an approximate three-acre parcel next to the new station.
“We had a presentation last month with Springboard Collaborative. And I guess I’d like to expand upon that conversation in terms of Council’s desire, whether or not you do want to partner with Springboard, and what we’ve put together is some city parcels that may be options for the location for a pallet village,” Mark Whitfield, City Manager, said. “And if you want us to pursue any of these or other ones that you may have, that might be private property options where we could reach out to a private property owner. But I guess the first question is, is this something that you want to pursue with Springboard?”
Councilman Mike Boyle commented that this was something the city needed to look into as it had been discussed at several meetings. Councilman Todd Culotta expressed a few concerns about the project.
“I agree with Councilman Boyle. There’s a lot of moving parts here that impact the decision. I think Springboard Collaborative is certainly a worthy organization. I have been down to where they are. It’s like our discussion with marijuana. It’s not this itself. It’s how it impacts what’s around it,” Councilman Culotta said. “And what that means is that we all have a heart to help those that need it. And I think this is a unique model. I think there’s a lot of things that have to be worked out. You know, some of the options on here. Mark, just kind of touched on it though. I don’t know we need to be in the business of transitional housing.”
Councilman Culotta felt that working with a private partnership, one that would lease land to a group like Springboard was a better solution than using city lands for a pallet village. He also felt that locating the village near a more commercial area rather than residential was a better option.
“If we argue that the southeast part of town is really residential and not commercial, we’ve had this debate more than once. And why aren’t we talking about down there? Let me ask you a question,” Councilman Culotta said. “If it should be down there, then we should just get over it. And Archie, I’m gonna pick on you a little bit because you said in the paper that you know, the NIMBYs are not my backyard. It maybe they just have to get over it. Well, what if we propose putting it next to Hearthstone or Meadows at Shawnee? That is a residential area, and this is a residential project. I don’t care how you want to look at it, whether it’s emergency or not, it’s residential.”
In addition to concerns about how the pallet village would be received in some areas, Councilman Culotta was also concerned with reports that Georgetown bypassed their systems to install the village in their town.
“They got it through Georgetown while bypassing a lot of the system. I can’t imagine us doing that here and then they bypass Planning and Zoning , we bypass the Board of Adjustments under the guise of its an emergency,” Councilman Culotta said. “That’s not totally fair to, first of all, people that follow the rules to do things, whether it’s business or residential. So, there’s a lot of things, a lot of moving parts here. The spirit of what they’re trying to accomplish certainly is admirable, how we go about doing it. And in comparing Georgetown to Milford, Georgetown, the one they have its location really is not close to a lot of residential. There’s some, but not a lot, especially close to more commercial or open area. And in Milford, maybe it’s our own fault making Milford a nice town where land is valuable. A lot in Milford is $50,000, any way you slice it. So where do you put this? It’s not that it’s not worth doing. And the only way to get it done is by putting it on municipal land.”
One of the benefits of the location of the pallet village in Georgetown is that it is close to services needed by those who are dealing with homelessness. He felt that Milford should consider those locations when selecting where to put transitional housing as a pallet village was to be used as transitional, not permanent housing.
“I think I said that at the end of that meeting, services, services, services was critical. Services have to be near the facility or on site. I mean, you’re right. It has to be on or near,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “But we, most of us ,or I’ll say me always have publicly said we want to do something to help the less fortunate. The homeless. And, you know, I hope in my lifetime that we can do this. We all knew that the real issue would be where, we all knew that. Where’s the best place? And so, I mean, I think this is this is a good start to find, to identify a piece of property that could accommodate them.”
No matter where the pallet village was placed, someone would be unhappy with that location, Councilwoman Wilson pointed out.
“It’s not saying that that’s the only spot, but I don’t care where we put them, somebody’s not going to be happy. There’s going to be someone that’s not going to be happy with it and gonna say we’re going to have to take the brunt of that,” she stated. “So I hope and pray that we can be collectively be in agreement whenever we decide on where it’s going to go because you know, hopefully, doesn’t break us down and to divide what we kind of hope for to accommodate the homeless.”
Mayor Archie Campbell agreed that the location had to be near services because most transitional housing required that the residents participate in certain programs or services.
“If they refuse to take some kind of service, they’re not allowed on that. So they have to be able to have transportation here. They need to be able to be around where they can get food or food can be delivered to them. So it’s not an easy task. But I know Dover is doing something now, coming up pretty soon. So it’s gonna be interesting to see how that falls out. Because keep in mind, too know the pallet village from Georgetown,” Mayor Campbell said. “But if you remember that Chad Hudson also talked about there’s a new type of building that they can use and the reason we use the palette city was because that can get broken down in an hour. And then we can use that property if let’s say we get rid of everybody. Everybody gets placed. I know out of the 40 people in Georgetown, 21 of them have now permanent jobs. 10 of them now have part time jobs. So it’s showing improvement. But the key is they have to have services and they have to be willing to take the service. So then it comes down to is if they choose not to participate.”
Although the pallet village is successful in Georgetown, Mayor Campbell stated that there are still homeless in the town and that this would not resolve the issue completely.
“Keep in mind Georgetown also still has a tent city. Everybody forgets that they think that this pallet city is everything but it isn’t,” Mayor Campbell said. “There’s a pallet city and then there’s a tent city. So, there are people that haven’t been serviced in Georgetown and then they have the ones that actually got accepted in the pallet city and then those who don’t want to accept the services or are still waiting for a space in the pallet city.”
Councilman Brian Baer asked Whitfield if he had a preference for which parcel would be best suited.
“Well, I can say that the one that I’m probably not in favor of is the on 14, simply because it’s next to a substation. We are looking at potentially putting in battery storage, which would actually go on that lot as well. I’m not sure you want to have a pallet village next to a battery storage facility,” Whitfield said. “The other issue with that site is the services, they’re not real close. It is close to Masten Circle and Brandywine. But public transportation is a pretty good distance away.”
At one time, DNREC expressed interest in the old police station but Whitfield said that was some time ago and he had not received any responses to his inquiries since that time. His preference was the vacant land by the new police station.
“And again, when we looked at that with Springboard, they said that would be a good location in terms of where the services are the state health centers are close by, public transportation is close by,” Whitfield said. “It does border a residential neighborhood as well. So, the old police station is interesting in that there’s a lot of square footage. I’m not sure if that’s what I would necessarily recommend right in the entrance of the town. But there’s things that you could do. The other nice thing, the newer units as the mayor described, can go down on pavement. So, we have a large, paved area with the parking lot there. The old police station itself may actually be used for emergency shelter or other services in there as well. So ,I think there’s some options but I think, the best one is probably the north end of the police property.”
The city has come a long way in talking about addressing the homeless population, Councilman James pointed out.
“Three years ago, we weren’t even talking about it as a matter of fact. They were just to stay out of sight. Because the reason why we’re started addressing this more aggressively, is because we were getting complaints not just from the retail locations but from the citizens as well but who didn’t feel safe. Some realtors would bring people in, and they would see the situation of the homeless population not being addressed. And then the safety and welfare of the homeless themselves,” Councilman James said. “So we started talking about it. We set up meetings we had workshops and Springboard Collaborative is not the only entity that does this type of work and provide wraparound services for the homeless but by talking to many and speaking to nearly every state agency that provides services, Springboard Collaborative does it well. They’re well organized. They know what they’re doing.”
Councilman James continued.
“So, if we’re going to do this, I think a partnership with springboard and I don’t think anybody’s disagreeing is probably the best group that addresses these types of issues. And I do believe city property is very valuable, very valuable. But at the same time, what I’ve seen in looking in other jurisdictions in other states where this type of thing has been put into place, there was always a partnership with the state board, a municipality for properties or monies or whatever have you it really doesn’t happen without it,” he stated. “So even though every piece of real estate is valuable, I don’t think the city would be outside of this realm of doing the right things for all of our citizens, since they do want an address of offering a piece of city parcel to do this, and I tend to concur with Mark on the location. Out of the locations, of the three presented, is the one that’s on Northeast Fourth Street to me is the better of the choices that are currently presented. And besides all our other things, like the services, you do have a police station right there also.”
Chief Cecilia Ashe was out of town for the meeting and could not comment to which Councilman Culotta stated he would like to get her input as to the best option for the village, but he still had concerns about using city lands.
“Something to consider, not to be the only Debbie Downer, but we went to the voters for a $20 million referendum for a new police station. And we purchased this land not with that money but with money from electric reserves for that project, and we paid almost a million dollars for it when you include the property as well. So to go back and say okay, well, we got this extra land now let’s just use it for that. So why did we need to include that in the cost,” Councilman Culotta said. “And if that land is usable from a revenue standpoint, or a developer wants to build something there or whatever, why aren’t we trying to recover that money because that wasn’t a loan from electric, that was just a cost it came out of our electric reserves. So, something to consider. I mean, it’s still strategically or geographically it’s an ideal location, but there’s ramifications with using city lands.”
One question Councilman James had was whether the pallet village could be removed so that the property could be used for another purpose in the future. He questioned what the land next to the new police station could be used for other than a pallet village.
“That piece of property, in my mind, would make a very nice municipal park or a city park having the water and sewer there as well as a restroom facility. And I guess, a cooking facility, maybe something that we can dovetail within where you have picnic grounds and a cooking facility as well as restrooms already there,” Whitfield said. “So, it may be something that you take over or it may be something that you expand upon by utilizing the rest of the land for as a as a city park. Either for open space or active space. That end of town I think given that location that would be a good place for a park. The other idea that we kind of tossed around is using it for affordable housing as well. Again, having the sewer and water lines already put in place. If you wanted to do an affordable housing project there and work with a private developer, such as Milford Housing or some other company we could use it for that as well since it does again border a residential area.”
Rob Pierce, City Planner, pointed out that all three parcels of land would require a conditional use approval which would also require public comment. Councilman Culotta stated that was why Georgetown did not put their pallet village outside of town limits so they could avoid public comment at the county level. Whitfield stated that Milford would not avoid public comment.
“I disagree with avoiding it,” Councilman Andy Fulton said. “I think public input is important. And I don’t think we should ever cut the public out of one of our decisions.”
Several council members, including Councilman Culotta, stated that they would like to hear the public’s views on the project. Mayor Campbell stated that it would likely be a lot of “not in my backyard” even though the parcel by the new police station had very little residential surrounding it. Councilman James stated that may be true, but as a publicly elected body, council needed to hear what the public had to say.
Whitfield stated that staff would pursue the project with Springboard Collaborative and look at the parcels to determine the best option and bring them back to council at a future meeting.
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