Former city historian pushes ordinance changes to help protect historic homes

With several changes to the city’s demolition ordinance approved last week, it may be easier for historic minded groups to stay on top of plans to demolish historic buildings in Milford and prevent their destruction.

The aldermen last week tweaked the existing city regulations regarding demolition to include automatic notification to the city historian if a building is 75 years old or older and someone files plans to knock it down.

Under the earlier ordinance, the city historian would be notified if he registered with the city each year to receive notifications.

Former City Historian Richard Platt said he thought notification should be automatic for the city historian.

Others in the city, like the Milford Historical Society or Preservation Trust, will still have to register to receive notification, but they will not have to register each year. A one-time registration will suffice.

City ordinance calls for an automatic 90-day demolition delay period if a building is more than 75 years old. That gives interested parties the chance to contest the demolition if there is “architectural, historic or cultural importance of the subject building or structure.”

The language in the previous ordinance said written objection to the demolition had to note the structure’s “architectural, historic and cultural importance.” Platt pushed to have the “and” changed to “or” because he said a building might not always meet all three criteria.

There was significant discussion about changing the word “and” to “or.” Alderman Anthony Giannattasio didn’t want to make the change without running it by the director of public land use.

But Alderman Frank Smith said the change really didn’t alter the intent of the ordinance.

Preserving history

“Historic preservation in Milford needs all the help it can get,” Platt told the aldermen at their monthly meeting last week when they were voting on the ordinance changes. He noted that several historic properties now lie in what is called the Milford Center Design Development District, or MCDD, which allows mixed use buildings and businesses.

Platt doesn’t think new businesses should be built in residential historic districts.

“All of Prospect Street is in the Milford Center Design Development District; even the First Church and Plymouth Building are in the MCDD,” Platt told the aldermen. “So is Lauralton Hall for heaven’s sake.”

Resident Michele Kramer backed Platt up in calling for several changes to the demolition ordinance.

“I’m in favor of the ordinance, especially in light of Milford’s 375th anniversary,” she said. “People should be notified of any demolition and we should do everything we can to make these ordinances stronger, not weaker.”

‘And’ versus ‘or’

City Attorney Jonathan Berchem said he believed the land use director would be OK with changing “and” to “or” in the ordinance.

“He wanted to be sure that when anyone applied for a demolition permit it would be a catch-all and that applications wouldn’t slip through the cracks,” Berchem said.

Since notification was the land use director’s key concern, he would not have objected to changing the qualifying definition, Berchem said.

Platt further explained the reason he suggested the change. He said the Sanford Bristol house, for example, would have qualified as a historically and architecturally significant house, but not culturally significant.

A building that might qualify as culturally significant might be one where a famous writer lived or a garage where a famous rock band got its start, Platt said.

Former President Bill Clinton once rented a summer beach house in Milford when he attended Yale Law School. Platt said that property might qualify as culturally significant.