Historians will not fight demolition of Hill Street houses, built in 1800s

Two houses on Hill Street dating to the 1800s have survived hurricanes and blizzards, but will soon feel the claw of a backhoe as they are torn down to make way for condominiums.

Local historians have decided not fight to save the two houses located at 67 Hill Street. Retired City Historian Richard Platt wrote in a recent email that the houses are not located in a historic district, nor are they listed on the city’s historic resources inventory.

“The consensus seemed to be that it’s not worth fighting over,” wrote Platt. “We need to save our ammunition for more significant fights.”

Commenting on the main structure, which is a 2,100 square foot home built in 1868, Platt wrote that architectural historians would call it 19th century vernacular with Greek revival elements. He said the veranda and bay window were probably added later in the 19th century, noting that this was typically done during the Victorian era when people considered the original designs to be too plain. The other structure is an 1,800 square foot home built in 1890.

If he concluded the property was historically or architecturally significant, City Historian Arthur Stowe could have used the city’s demolition delay ordinance, which is 120 days. Stowe concurred with Platt’s view that despite its age, the main house lacked historical significance.

Stowe had 30 days to file that application to review from the time the developer filed an “intent to demolish” application with the building department. The 120-day period provides time to seek alternatives to demolition.

Platt complained that the legal notice in the newspaper only included the public hearing for a proposed regulation change, but did not say the change was intended for a project at 67 Hill Street.

“How was anyone in the public to know that 67 Hill Street was coming up before the board,” asked Platt. “I was told that the notice was perfectly legal, but my contention is that it was grossly misleading. Something has to be done to fix the law or the regulations on this.”

At its June 21 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) unanimously approved a plan to allow construction of a 12-unit condominium project on the 1.43-acre site. With some minor regulation changes, the project conforms to the site’s Multiple Family Residential Districts (RMF-16) zone.

Hill Sixty Seven LLC purchased the property for $700,000 on March 5, 2015. The LLC lists Sherry Shepro of the law firm of Shepro & Hawkins LLC, 2103, Main St., Stratford, as its member.

As part of the proposal, the applicant requested two changes to the zoning regulations, which the board approved. The changes apply to Article III, Section and Sec., which detail the design (paragraph 1) and the spacing (paragraph 4) of buildings in RMF-9 and RMF-16 districts.

The previous regulations required a minimum of three units per building in an RMF zone, and this change would allow for individual detached units, which is the plan for the Hill Street project.

The other regulation change affects building spacing; instead of calculating a formula based on the building height, the new regulation would specify a minimum of 15 feet between buildings.

The 12 units would be located in a village circle design with one garage and two parking spaces in front. The units would have two-bedrooms with a full basement for storage, along with additional storage space in the garage. There would also be nine visitor parking spaces, including one required handicap-accessible space.

The project includes widening of Hill Street, including a section in front of Fawn Hollow Condominiums, plus rehabilitating sidewalks connecting to the condominium driveway.

At the June 21 public hearing on the zone change, Michele Kramer, president of the Milford Preservation Trust, said the trust planned to meet to discuss what they saw as flaws in the demolition process. She said they have twice met with the Board of Aldermen on this issue.

Kramer said the houses at 67 Hill Street had the word “demo” painted on them in orange paint five weeks before an application was ever filed. She said the problem with the paint is that “many residents reasonably conclude demolition is imminent and inevitable,” but the city historian can issue a demolition delay.

Platt said that these concerns were discussed in a meeting in late July at the office of Jonathan Berchem, at which Joseph Griffith, director of permitting and land use was also present. While he did not attend, Platt said that Kramer and Stowe attended, along with Jim Santa Barbara, representing the Milford Historical Society, and Art Paulson from the South of the Green Historic District.

Speaking by phone on Aug. 7, Stowe said the purpose of the meeting was to review the application procedure for demolitions “to make sure people understood how it worked.”