New plan for Milford mall includes public space, apartments

MILFORD — A new and expanded plan to redevelop the Connecticut Post Mall is back on the table, this time with apartments forming the centerpiece of a planned social and recreational hub.

Steven Levin, founder and CEO of Centennial Real Estate of Dallas, Texas., and Nick Morris, of Milford Crossing Plaza, both participated in a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Board’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) subcommittee on April 14. The two are seeking approval for a zone change to allow residential buildings at the mall.

In 2020, a plan to construct a 300-unit apartment building on mall property fell through when zoning officials rejected a request for a zone change to allow the apartment complex. City officials, including Economic and Community Development Director Julie Nash were critical of the 2020 proposal, with Nash saying the proposal “lacked a long-term cohesive plan” and should encompass other uses, as is being done at other malls across the country.

Levin said the Centennial design team had taken to heart the board’s response to the previous proposal and worked toward an integrated vision that re-imagined the old Sears location.

“Our vision is to re-imagine this mall, this property, while it continues to be a vibrant, relevant, amenity for the community of Milford. This mall doesn’t have to die,” Levin said at the Oct. 6, 2020 meeting.

The goal is still to add 300 apartments.

The original plan to redevelop the mall included construction of a 300-unit apartment building on a four-acre portion of the mall property at the location now occupied by the closed Sears Auto Center.

Levin said the topic of adding apartments remains a “hot button” issue that creates push-back, but he said he thinks the resistance would be reduced if the apartment plan “comes with parks or other uses with social and recreational benefits. The new proposal would feature a $7 million to $8 million public space, he said. Further development could add space for offices, health sciences, technological corporations and residential areas, Levin said.

Attorney John Knuff, representing Centennial, said minor adjustments could be made to co-locate residential and retail or commercial in the same building. He added true mixed-use buildings require both a residential and a commercial component.

Chairman Jim Quish had objected to the 2020 proposal, fearing that an economic downturn would leave the city “stuck with apartments in a zone that was clearly meant to be a commercial property.”

Quish said Levin’s description of the new preliminary proposal with an indoor/outdoor environment seemed “much more mixed use” than the previous plan. Quish and Levin agreed that Levin would return to the subcommittee with a more robust master plan in May.

One possible stumbling block for the new plan is that demolishing the old Sears location, to be rebuilt for mixed use. Board member Peg Kearney expressed her desire that every possibility for reuse of the Sears space be exhausted. She suggested several options, including retail, a Superior Court building or a Milford campus for Yale or another university.