City approves plan for downtown parking, new store and apartments downtown

UPDATE: A new retail store, underground parking garage and apartments are in the plans for downtown Milford, at the site formerly occupied by Corner Convenience and other small businesses.
Milford’s Board of Aldermen voted Monday night in favor of selling the parcel at 44-64 River Street to Metro Star Properties LLC to develop. The  Planning and Zoning Board voted Tuesday night in favor of selling the property.
According to Mayor Ben Blake, under the agreement the city will sell the property to Metro Star so Metro Star can construct a three-story structure including a retail anchor store, underground parking garage and surface parking, plus 50 apartments.
“My vision, which is two-fold, is for some kind of hub or anchor store to help buoy the rest of downtown, in addition to the additional parking,” Blake said.
“I think it’s a good project,” Blake said. “It’s good for downtown.”
The plan follows more than two years of studies into incorporating the parcel into a downtown transit-oriented development, including a transit-oriented development market analysis and conceptual site plan under the guidance of the Downtown River-High Street Development Committee.
Transit-oriented developments are “sweeping the nation,” according to a transit-oriented development website,
“Also known as TOD, it’s the creation of compact, walkable, mixed-use communities centered around high-quality train systems. This makes it possible to live a lower-stress life without complete dependence on a car for mobility and survival,” the site states.
The city bought 2.2 acres of land on River and High streets, near the train station, in 2015 with about $5 million in state funds.
Under the agreement, Metro Star will purchase 1.28-acres of that for $500,000, develop it and then lease parking to the city for $1 a year for 97 years. The sale to Metro Star does not include two parcels along High Street that were paved to create parking spaces.
According to a project proposal, Metro Star will develop the 1.28-acre site as “a top-quality mixed-use and/or commercial project appropriately scaled with ample parking for potential residents and visitors to downtown Milford … .”
The mayor said city officials will ask the developer to incorporate the architecture of Lauralton Hall and the Milford Chamber of Commerce building “in homage to Henry Augustus Taylor,” a New York financier who owned Lauralton Hall and gifted the chamber building, formerly the Taylor Library, to the city in the late 1800s.
The project plans note the development will include space for “a grocer, housing units and retail space.”
“The developer will use good faith reasonable commercial efforts to have one of the retail tenants be a grocer occupying a majority of the designated retail space … ,” the project plan states.
Blake said the grocery store would be about the size of a Trader Joe’s, but added there is no commitment yet from a grocer. That remains to be determined.
“We have to work with the developer on the grocer,” Blake said.
The new building will include about 12,050-square-feet of retail space with frontage on River Street. There will be 120 parking space in the lower parking garage, and 76 surface parking spaces.
Blake said the committee interviewed three developers and recommended Metro Star.
Economic Development Director Julie Nash said Metro Star has done a number of retail and residential projects in Milford, including developments at 25 High Street, 121 West Main Street and 233 Broad Street.
“I’m excited about this,” Nash said. “Parking has been on the Chamber of Commerce agenda for many decades. We got lucky with this package because it includes housing and a grocer. It will bring more people walking around downtown.”
Blake said the deal is a good one for the city because the city might have had to pay up to $5 million to build a parking garage. “The big value for the city is that parking,” Blake said, adding that selling the land also means an additional $250,000 a year in tax revenue.
Because a state grant was used to buy the land, “the city isn’t out any money on this deal,” he added.
Robert Smith of Metro Star said it could take a year to work through the permitting process, and then a year to construct.
Residents of Darina Place, which abuts the parcel, spoke against the plan Monday night, saying it will increase traffic and decrease property values on their street. Donald and Diana Nytko live on Darina Place and predict their property values will decrease $100,000. Others said the project does not look like Milford, “but big money people coming in and taking over Milford.”
(Correspondent Tom Ebersold contributed to this article)