Neighbors oppose apartment plan at historic Milford property

The David Baldwin House at 67 Prospect St. in Milford.

The David Baldwin House at 67 Prospect St. in Milford.

Pam McLoughlin / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — All 12 residents who spoke at the recent Planning and Zoning Board meeting expressed opposition to a plan to renovate the historic Baldwin House and construct a 36-unit apartment building at the rear of the Prospect Street site.

The board continued the public hearing to its March 2 meeting to give it time get a second review of the drainage plan and also to request a legal opinion regarding its powers.

About 30 residents attended the public hearing. The dozen that spoke expressed concerns about the project’s density in a historic area, the effect of additional traffic, and the impact storm water runoff would make on neighboring properties, particularly the Milford Cemetery. The 1-acre property is at 67 Prospect St.

In advance of the meeting, the board received two letters supporting the house preservation, but neither letter commented on the apartment project. One letter came from the State Historic Preservation Office and was addressed to the Milford Historic Preservation Commission. The other letter was from the preservation commission and outlined the elements the commission wanted to see included in the renovation, including restoration of a bronze stone and plaque, and using wood on the house exterior.

The board also received 17 letters opposed to the project, some of which were written by people who also spoke at the public hearing.

Attorney Thomas Lynch, representing the developer, 67 Prospect Street LLC, said the proposal is a site plan review for a project that is zoning compliant in a zone that allows for mixed used properties.

“This is not an application where the board has the leeway to act in a legislative capacity,” said Lynch, as the board could do when an applicant needed a special exception, special permit, or zone change.

Lynch said the original plan in 2017 called for demolishing the house and constructing a 44-unit apartment building. But the preservation commission, which had jurisdiction over the project due to its location, voted to deny issuing a certificate of appropriateness, prompting the applicant to appeal the decision to the Superior Court.

The two sides eventually reached an agreement where developers agreed to restore the house, including using wood siding, replace the historic plaque that had been on the property, and reduce the number of units. The group also had the state archaeologist survey the rear property in response to “anecdotal comments” that perhaps Milford’s early settlers were buried on the property. He said a study was done that included the use of sonar and the results were negative.

While a traffic study is not required for a site plan, Lynch said one was done in 2017-18 for the 44-unit plan, with Traffic Engineer Kermit Hua concluding there would be “no adverse impact from this project.” Lynch said with 36 units, there would be a lesser impact made by the project.

Lynch also told the board that City Engineer Gregory H. Pidluski had “signed off” on the storm water management plan, which had been of concern to some of the neighbors.

Project engineer Manny Silva further elaborated on the storm water system, saying the original design was for a 25-year storm, and the revised plans are for a 100-year storm, which is 7 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Silva said that Pidluski also asked the applicant to bring back the curb line to widen Prospect Street.

The first person to speak in opposition to the project was Richard Platt of Platt Lane, the retired city historian. Platt said the street is part of the River Park National Register Historic District and that a large project like this “is out of character for this historic district.”

Raymond Oliver of Gulf Street, said he was representing the Milford Cemetery Association as its vice president. Oliver, a local architect who has presented many projects to the board, said he still had concerns about the latest stormwater plan.

“The area has a relatively high water table. If those galleries get full, there is no place for that water to go,” said Oliver. “Containing the water is not the entire solution.”

Oliver said Robert J. Hiza, a professional engineer hired by the cemetery association, reviewed the drainage plans and suggested hooking the drainage system into a catch basin by the railroad bridge. He also said there is a ditch along the entire rear portion of the property that he said, “will be filled with a water a good part of the time.”

In response, Silva said Oliver and Hiza were commenting on current conditions.

“This design will eliminate run off from different types of storms,” he said. Silva also noted that Hiza’s review was for the earlier plans to meet the standards of a 25-year storm. Silva said state regulations require the system to drain out within 72 hours.

Neighbors also expressed concern about the additional traffic from 36 apartments on the street, which has a traffic light at each end.

Board Chairman Jim Quish said the board would seek an opinion from City Attorney Jonathan Berchem regarding the scope of its review powers. Among the provisions of the regulations is language stating that the board shall consider such factors as whether a project is in harmony with the area, if traffic access, circulation and parking are adequate, and if landscaping and screening are suitable.