Shoreline faces changes

The face of Milford’s shoreline stands to change over the next decades, and residents should take note of the coming changes for several reasons.

Alan Plattus, an architect with Yale’s Urban Design Workshop, and city officials who work in the planning offices know that change is coming. And that’s why one of the focus areas of Plattus’ study, aimed at helping the city create its updated Plan of Conservation and Development, is the shoreline.

Change is coming because of new federal and local regulations that will make it very difficult for people in older cottage houses to fix them up, modernize them, improve them as the years go on. Many shoreline homes were damaged during Tropical Storm Irene. If they suffered more than 50% damage the homes must be brought into compliance with today’s requirements for flood zone construction: elevated with no living spaces below the base flood elevation.

That regulation is creating real hardship for some people who live along the shoreline. One resident pointed out that the rule is somewhat akin to eminent domain, because it is government regulation that can effectively force people out of their homes. What it means for Milford shoreline residents who are required to elevate their homes out of the flood zone is what one official estimated at $150,000 in expense. For some homeowners, that’s just not possible. So they will end up selling their homes in all likelihood to someone who can afford to elevate them and modernize them: Make them bigger, better, a new face along Milford’s shoreline.

When Plattus talked about the shoreline with Milford residents, he tried to put them in a proactive mode. He asked them what kind of regulations they would like to see in place to help control and mold this new face. Should there be height restrictions on elevated homes, should there be design standards, or exceptions for people who choose to spend more and add aesthetic touches to their homes, such as more costly and attractive siding?

That is certainly one way to approach this looming change: proactively. Of course there are still others who would like to maintain a defensive stance for a while, people who want to fight these regulations so they are ulimately allowed to keep their small beach cottages the way they are and the way they have been for many years.

City planning officials look at the new regulations objectively, saying that Milford has to abide by federal regulations in order to qualify for flood insurance. And the rules aren’t entirely out of line — even though they may present a hardship — because they are aimed at protecting shoreline property from damage that the insurance companies don’t want to pay to repair storm after storm.

Residents who are not in this situation — who do not live along the shore — may not even know about their neighbors’ plights. But they should know, because these are far-reaching regulations that will have a future impact on Milford.

There’s another reason to pay attention, and that’s compassion. Some residents are facing situations that they are having a hard time wrapping their wallets and their futures around. One man said he probably has no choice but to sell his house for a loss and move on. He and his wife had saved to make repairs on the house, but with the new regulations mandating them to now elevate, they just can’t do anything with the house. The regulation is changing their plans and their financial goals.

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