Group backs cooking school at Stowe property

Until now, Milford has heard primarily from a group of Milford preservations who want to block sale of the Stowe barn and property in Walnut Beach for use as a cooking school. This week a different group of residents spoke out, saying they want the property to become a cooking school to not only bolster the Walnut Beach business district but to save the historic structure from deteriorating.
Susan Patrick, owner of the Walnut Beach Creamery and representing the Walnut Beach Association and the Walnut Beach business group, was one of about a dozen people who spoke at this week’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting, urging the aldermen to consider selling the Stowe barn to Heide Lang, owner of the Fig Cooking School in Hamden. She said Lang is the first person to come along with a plan for the barn in 14 years.

“I think you have to move on this quickly,” Patrick said, “or you’ll be sitting on a tinderbox of liability.”

While preservationists argue that the barn is in solid shape, the people who spoke at Monday night’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting insist that the barn is starting to deteriorate and if the city doesn’t do something to ensure its maintenance, it won’t be long before the barn cannot be saved.

Marty Lippman, who worked many years as an engineer, said he looked at the barn and agreed that something needs to be done to prevent further deterioration.

“I’m 100% in support of the cooking school,” he said.

Similar comments came from other area residents, business owners and representatives of the Milford Arts Council.

Paige Miglio, executive director of the Milford Arts Council, said Lang’s plan to buy the property and move her cooking school there not only supports the community but the arts as well. She said that allowing the property to become a cooking school will mean the city will collect taxes on the property, and the historic site will be revived.

Dean Fisher and his wife, Josephine Robinson, who own property once part of the Stowe barn parcel being discussed today, back Lang’s cooking school too.

Fisher said the barn, sitting empty, attracts vandals, and he said old structures need continual maintenance. “The barn will need a good steward to look after it,” he said.

Business owners said they look forward to welcoming another business that will help attract customers to their shops, and one that will promote the arts.

And, added Meg Giannotti, owner of Artfish42, “I don’t know if any of you have tasted her cooking, but I assure you, you will be there all the time.”

Marcia Winters, a Milford resident, said she has worked with many non-profit groups and she strongly favors organizations that give back to their community. She said Lang is that kind of person.

“We need to embrace people like that,” Winters said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our community.”

The city bought the Stowe property in 2002 to save the barn and other structures from demolition. A local builder had bought the former dairy farm and planned to raze the old farmhouse and one-time dairy barns and build nine houses. But he compromised with the city on a plan that would appease historians, artists and nearby residents who didn’t want to see the historic buildings razed.

The city had planned to pay $825,000 for the land, but Mayor Ben Blake said that went down to $625,000 because Fisher and Robinson bought one of the buildings for $200,000.

The goal at the time was to make the Stowe property a central part of a Walnut Beach art district, adding to the artsy offerings at the Firehouse Art Gallery and art shops that were popping up in the area.

Since the Fig Cooking School idea was raised, a group called Milford Citizens To Save Stowe Memorial Park organized to fight the sale of the property.

The site is not called Stowe Memorial Park, but members of the group indicate they would like it to be a park.

Tim Chaucer, a local historian and preservationist and member of that group, has argued that the Stowe site is a parklike setting and it should remain under city ownership.

In a letter to the newspaper this week, seven people belonging to Milford Citizens To Save Stowe Memorial Park said, “The public does not know how much money taxpayers spent to save this land in 2002 and, because of a lack of transparency, no one knows how much [the city] is planning to sell this precious land for.”

His group has sent a Freedom of Information request to the city attorney asking for a detailed accounting of what was spent on the property.

Chaucer and his group said they would like the city “to place a welcome sign, a few directional signs, designate a few parking spots and welcome residents to the land which they own instead of selling it for prices unknown to a private business.”

Mayor Ben Blake said this week there is no plan to sell the barn and property, but city leaders have been talking to Lang and different organizations in Milford as they study the proposal. If a sale was deemed beneficial, Milford’s aldermen would have to vote on it.