The Milford Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously Monday night to deny a developer’s plan to demolish a historic home at 67 Prospect Street to build 44 one-bedroom units and 1,269 square feet of office space at the site.
After several hours that included a presentation of the plan by the developer’s attorney, Dominick Thomas, and pleas from a roomful of residents to deny the plan and protect Milford history, the commission voted against a certificate of appropriateness that would have allowed the house to be razed.
The house in question is located at 67 Prospect Street, and was built by David L. Baldwin in 1835. Baldwin, who was born in Milford in 1785, was town clerk of Milford for 27 years and clerk of probate for 12 years.
The property on which the house sits was once part of the home lot of the Rev. Peter Prudden (1601-1656), leader of the Hertfordshire Group that founded Milford in 1639 and first pastor of the First United Church of Christ.
The city’s first burying ground was in Prudden’s back yard, meaning that a number of Milford’s founders are buried on the property, according to city historians.
Residents who spoke against the demolition referred to the site as “sacred ground” and argued that disturbing the land would be a travesty of history.
The members of the Milford Preservation Commission cited several factors in coming to their decision, including their belief that the developer had not explored reasonable alternatives to demolishing the historic house.
Attorney Thomas said he will appeal the commission’s decision.
Economic feasibility lay at the heart of Thomas’s discussion about why the historic house needed to be demolished. He said a structural report of the 1835 building details myriad structural issues, which he said were made worse when pipes froze and burst, causing water damage.
The cost to restore the house would be $738,625, which would put it beyond the cost of comparable homes in the area, he said. The cost to restore, plus the purchase price, “vastly exceeds the value of the property when completed,” Thomas said.
The commission questioned Thomas, with an eye toward determining whether his client bought the property with the intent of destroying the house and building apartments, as opposed to maintaining the house and property.
Thomas said he didn’t think that under the regulations, the commission could take motivation into consideration.
Commission Chairman William Silver asked Thomas a number of questions about attempts to preserve the Baldwin house as part of the development plans. Silver even asked if just the facade could be preserved. But Thomas said those options were not explored because restoring the house would be too expensive.
Thomas did say the developer would be open to discussing with the commission ideas for incorporating parts of the Baldwin house into the design of the new structure.
Commission member John Kranz asked if the owner had gotten insurance money after the pipes burst, and whether that money went into securing or repairing the house. Thomas said the intent was to demolish the house and he didn’t believe money was put into repairs.
Kranz also said the estimates to repair the house seemed inflated. He especially questioned a $50,000 estimate to repair the plumbing.
When it came time for public comment, no one spoke in favor of the plan. But in addition to petitions being submitted, one with more than 3,000 signatures, speaker after speaker lined up to urge denial of the demolition request.
Philip Walker, a historic preservation lawyer representing the Milford Preservation Trust, told the commission that when determining economic feasibility the board also had to take into account the historic value of the house.
He and resident Ann Maher discounted Thomas’s claim that the property is not in a historic district: It may not be in one of Milford’s two designated historic districts, but it is in the National River Park Historic District.
Resident Lily Flannigan, who also lives on Prospect Street, talked about a zoning change in 2000 that paved the way for plans like the one now proposed on the historic site. She said the residents of the street didn’t know that such a change was coming. But she said that in 2015, the city created the Milford Historic Preservation Commission to protect houses like the Baldwin house that were not protected from demolition.
“What the applicant has proposed is a desecration,” Flannigan said. “What the applicant has allowed to happen to the property since the transfer is a shame on them.”
Many speakers echoed the opinion voiced in resident Mary Kriksciun’s testimony. She said, “I feel that we listened to some questionable truths by the applicant’s representatives tonight, if not some downright lies. The homeowner of 67 Prospect Street works in real estate. He bought 67 Prospect Street in 2015, less than three years ago, and he didn’t realize the extent of the structural problems in the home?
“I don’t believe that for a minute,” she continued. “I think it’s obvious that the homeowner purchased this house in 2015 fully planning to demolish it and make a very nice profit selling these condos and office spaces with absolutely no regard to the integrity of the house or the neighborhood.”
She and others said the owner’s financial hardship is his own doing, and that costly repairs go hand in hand with a historic house.
City records indicate that Christina Smyth and Dan Boynton bought the house for $444,500 in 2015. Ownership is also listed as 67 Prospect Street LLC, with an address in New York City, on Milford records.
Patrick Rose of Fairfield filed an application with the Planning and Zoning Board Aug. 30 to build 44 one-bedroom units and 1,269 square feet of office space at the site.