Milford group still working on ordinance to protect historic homes

An ordinance that would help preserve historic homes that lie outside historic districts did not come up at this week’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting as expected.

But former City Historian Richard Platt said he and other members of the Milford Preservation Trust haven’t lost interest in saving old homes; they just needed a little more time to address some details of the ordinance they drafted.

“The flame is still there. It hasn’t gone out,” Platt said.

The Milford Preservation Trust drafted an ordinance to protect historic Milford homes from demolition, and the aldermen’s ordinance committee discussed the proposal in December. But the aldermen postponed adopting the ordinance until they could be sure property owners would not be forced to preserve their old houses if they didn’t want to.

The proposed ordinance would establish a Historic Preservation Commission to research and document historic sites and structures in the city.

Under the draft ordinance, qualifying historic properties would be listed as “protected property” and no buildings on them could be altered, restored, moved, dismantled, or demolished until after a certificate of appropriateness is submitted and approved by the new commission.

The ordinance would apply to property that is listed on or under consideration for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and/or the State Register of Historic Places.

The five-member Historic Preservation Commission would keep a record of properties on those lists, plus any properties that have been documented by the commission as deserving protection.

The commission would approve dismantling or demolishing a building on a protected property only if the applicant proves “there is no feasible nor prudent alternative to dismantling or demolition,” the proposed ordinance states.

Milford's Preservation Trust decided to pursue additional protection for the city's historic homes that lie outside historic districts after the 1790 Elijah Bryan House on Gulf Street was demolished last year.

The house was not in a historic district, or on the National Register. Platt said if it had been on a historic list, it would have been harder for the owner to get permission to demolish it.

The trust has also proposed an increase from 90 to 180 days for the amount of time a person would have to wait to demolish a historic structure after the building department receives a demolition application.

When the aldermen discussed the proposals at their December meeting, board member Democrat Nick Veccharelli said he wants to be sure properties can be added to the city's “protected property” list only if the owner agrees.

This week, Platt said inclusion on the list will be voluntary.

“It’s either yes or no for an individual property owner,” Platt said.

Milford Preservation Trust President Michele Kramer said she planned to meet with Aldermen Frank Smith and Anthony Giannatasio, plus City Attorney Jonathan Berchem, after the December meeting to go over some of their concerns about the proposed ordinance.

“I think their biggest concern is that homeowners will be 'forced' into something, which is not true,” Kramer said. “For homeowners of historic properties who wish to protect their houses, this is simply a way to expedite that process. We can help with architectural review, paperwork and cost. If they are not interested, then that is where it ends — no problem.”

Platt said he expects the proposed ordinance and changes to the demolition delay ordinance to be ready for the February Board of Aldermen’s meeting.