New committee works on plans for creating a better downtown

The area around the downtown train station might look different by the year 2021. There might be a grocery store or a retail store where Corner Convenience is located now, and there may be a parking garage offering more parking in a transit oriented development — one that is vibrant, conducive for walking, shopping and catching the train.

Transit oriented developments are “sweeping the nation,” according to a transit oriented development website,

“Also known as TOD, it's the creation of compact, walkable, mixed-use communities centered around high quality train systems. This makes it possible to live a lower-stress life without complete dependence on a car for mobility and survival,” the site states.

The time frame for realizing this vision, and the amenities it will actually include, are all in the process of being formulated by a relatively new city group, the Downtown River-High Street Development Committee.

The committee is overseeing plans to develop property that the city now owns at River and High streets.

The city bought the 2.2 acres of land near the train station last year with about $5 million in state funds. The state also provided $150,000 to pay for a site plan and market analysis, and the city has hired BL Companies of Meriden, an architecture and engineering firm, to create the plan.

Geoffrey Fitzgerald, manager and civil engineering principal for BL, led a discussion at Milford City Hall Tuesday, Nov. 1 and then a walking tour of the area. Economic Development Director Julie Nash said a transit oriented development includes a half mile radius from the train station, so the walking tour spread to other key parts of downtown Milford, like the Memorial Bridge and Wilcox Park.

Milford is going through “a renaissance,” Mayor Ben Blake said in kicking off the meeting Monday. He said many new businesses have moved to Milford, “and a lot has to do with the downtown.”

His vision includes an anchor store, like a grocery store or Apple store where Corner Convenience is now, and a low parking garage near the train station that blends with the area, and he shared those ideas with Fitzgerald as they toured the area.

But Monday was just one step in the process. Fitzgerald said there will be a market analysis which “allows us to design things that aren't pie in the sky but are realistic,” an economic analysis, assessment of the physical attributes downtown, and public input before a master plan is finalized, likely by May of next year.

He is working with Realty Concepts of Guilford and MIG of Pleasantville, N.Y., to put the plan together.

Stanley Gniazdowski of Realty Concepts said he will be looking at the commercial and residential components of the project. “What you’re really developing here is a neighborhood,” he said.

Studies will include an assessment of parking and traffic.

Philip Myrick form MIG talked about “placemaking” which, according to one online source, is “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well being.”

Peter Smith, chairman of the River-High Street Committee, said the committee has been meeting since the beginning of the year and reviewed a number of companies before picking BL. He said BL has a vision that includes tying in all of downtown. “These guys were looking at it holistically,” Smith said.

State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, who joined the tour as did other state and local officials and residents, said she doesn’t want to see the area lose its charm, which concurred with Fitzgerald’s assessment that a large, imposing parking garage would be out of place here.

It might be four of five years until a concept is approved and then actually constructed, speculated the city’s economic development director. While state funds paid for the study taking place now, other funds will have to be found to pay for the project. Nash expects those funds will come from a number of sources, what she called “a lasagna” of funding.

“Our goal is to make it so attractive the developers will be fighting over it,” she said.

While some communities pursue projects like this and it takes years to complete them, Henry Jadach, Milford’s transit district director, said Milford leaders know what they are doing and will see the project through in a timely manner.

“Milford moves,” Jadach said.

According to the TOD website, transit oriented development combines regional planning, city revitalization and suburban renewal to create walkable neighborhoods.

“TOD is rapidly sweeping the nation with the creation of exciting people places in city after city,” the website states. “The public has embraced the concept across the nation as the most desirable places to live, work and play. Real estate developers have quickly followed to meet the high demand for quality urban places served by rail systems.”