Plan suggests 3- to 5-story building downtown, parking garage, townhouses
Residents heard conceptual plans for a downtown Milford Thursday night that might include a new building where the Corner Convenience building is located — a large structure that incorporates retail space, apartments and a parking garage.
BL Companies of Meriden, an architecture and engineering firm presenting the information, also talked about building townhouses on Railroad Avenue where new commuter parking spaces were recently created, and sprucing up the downtown area around the railroad station to create a transit oriented development, or TOD, which focuses on a walkable community.
The ideas presented Thursday night at Milford City Hall follow more than a year of studies and workshops and are included in a final Transit-Oriented Development Market Analysis and Conceptual Site plan. Wayne Violette, senior landscape architect with BL Companies, as well as Pete Smith, chairman of the Downtown River-High Street Development Committee, cautioned that the ideas presented and contained in a comprehensive report are just a roadmap toward a possible future downtown, and not set in stone.
“This is a guideline,” Smith said.
There are several alternatives included in the plan, one of which calls for a three- to five-story building that would take up much of the lot at the corner of River Street and Railroad Avenue. The first floor would include 22,800 square feet for retail or a restaurant, and the upper floors would contain 12 to 28 upscale apartments per floor. Those would surround a multi-level parking structure with 200 to 400 parking spaces, which Violette said would be unobtrusive, largely hidden from view by the apartments and retail.
Transit-oriented developments are “sweeping the nation,” according to a transit-oriented development website, TOD.org.
“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 city bought 2.2 acres of land on River and High streets, near the train station, in 2015 with about $5 million in state funds. The state also provided $150,000 to pay for a site plan and market analysis.
“This is a beginning,” Violette said as he presented parts of the plan Thursday night. “This provides a vision, a concept.”
He said downtown Milford has a number of highlights, but they need to be connected to make it a walkable area. Trees, more greenery, decorative sidewalks and signage are ways to connect the various amenities, like the green, the harbor and the downtown shops.
Phil Myrick, director of planning for MIG, another agency consulting on the plan, said that residents expressed a desire to maintain the downtown character but to make the area better for walking, dining and shopping. The library, harbor and Daniel Street are all assets to downtown, “but they could be better,” he said, suggesting, for one, attractive street paving leading from Broad Street to the harbor.
The Wepawaug River running through downtown is beautiful, but could be more accessible to people with a pedestrian walkway alongside, he suggested.
He said of the downtown area “there needs to be a freshening up, more color and plantings.”
Myrick showed a slide of a colorful railroad underpass — today the underpass is rather dark and uninviting — and a colorful walkway from the underpass up to the Milford Arts Council, to tie that downtown amenity to the rest of what downtown has to offer.
He talked about bringing back skating on the duck ponds.
“These traditions, there was no particular reason why they stopped happening,” he said.
The report recommends making Daniel Street a two-way road instead of one way as it is now, and possibly closing Daniel Street to cars during certain hours. It also recommends making High Street where it crosses the green a two-way to create easier access.
“Historically these roads were two-way,” Violette said.
Residents had positive and negative things to say about the plan.
One resident said that the more than 100-year-old houses on Darina Place would be dwarfed by townhouses on Railroad Avenue.
“You need to hang onto those buildings,” the resident said about the Darina Place homes. “That is your history.”
Another resident she was worried Darina Place would turn into an entryway to the proposed parking garage site.
Several balked at the idea of a five-story building at the site of the now closed Corner Convenience.
“I would hate to see that more than three stories,” said downtown resident Kate Orecchio.
There was some concern about introducing more retail downtown when many Milford storefronts are empty. But the consultants said their market analysis indicates downtown is prime for residential and retail.
Violette said it would be up to a developer to fine tune a plan for downtown, which led to a resident asking if the city would then be at the mercy of a developer’s wishes.
But Violette said any developer who chose to pursue the project would have to use the study as a guideline and would have to adhere to local zoning regulations.
Smith said the next step is to see if developers are interested in the plan.
“This was a great opportunity to get public input,” Smith said. “The next process is we’ll put out an RFQ [request for quotation] and we’ll get developers to submit different ideas. We have a hope that we will get multiple ideas and it’s not just one developer, and we’ll be able to look at a bunch of different plans, concepts.”
“This is an economic tool,” Smith added. “We always have pressures about our tax rate. If you can create more economic development downtown, which is where development belongs, then it can help all of the city.”