Ordinance to save historic homes expected to come up at January meeting

A proposed city ordinance would protect historic Milford homes from demolition, but Milford’s aldermen postponed adopting the ordinance until they could be sure property owners will not be forced to preserve their old houses.

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

Under the 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 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 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 earlier this year.

The house was not in a historic district, or on the National Register, according to Richard Platt, former city historian and member of the Milford Preservation Trust. He 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 historic structure could be demolished 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.

Attorney Jonathan Berchem said he would confirm the voluntary aspect. But he said he believes that a property cannot be listed or designated on any historic list if the owner objects.

Milford Preservation Trust President Michele Kramer said she plans to meet with Aldermen Frank Smith and Anthony Giannatasio, plus attorney Berchem, this week to go over their concerns.

“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. So I hope to clarify these points and allay their fears.”

She expects the proposed ordinances will come up again at the January Board of Aldermen’s meeting.