Proposed construction near sacred Milford burial ground rankles residents

About 100 people packed City Hall Monday night, March 19, to oppose a developer’s proposal to build 44 apartment units and office space on a parcel at 67 Prospect St. that has historic significance and likely includes a burial ground to some of the city’s earliest settlers.

The public hearing was before the Milford Historic Preservation Commission, a relatively new commission that in this case is charged with approving or denying a “certificate of appropriateness” — one of many hurdles the project must clear to be built.

The developer’s attorney, Dominick J. Thomas Jr., of the firm Cohen Thomas in Derby and an architect, laid out the plans and Thomas was questioned heavily by commission members on the estimated costs of part of the project, as he asserted the only economic feasibility for his client is to tear down the existing old structure in order to construct a building of three stories, two of them to be comprised of one-bedroom apartment units and the other offices.

Thomas also stressed to the commission that their regulations limit their powers.

The Rev. Adam Eckhart, pastor of First United Church of Christ, was one of those in a long line who lined up at about 8 p.m. to implore the commission not to approve the certificate.

Eckhart said records at his church indicate a “generation of settlers” are buried on the property — something city historians have cited.

He said “being feasible and prudent” doesn’t just extend to finances.

The commission also had many letters from residents to consider, as well as a petition against the project signed by 3,000 people and with many comments to read.

Not long ago, noted local historian Richard Platt, who attended the hearing, pleaded with the Board of Aldermen to create an ordinance or take some other measure to protect Milford’s sacred burial grounds.

He said the development as proposed would put residential units over the “garden” of the Rev. Peter Prudden, which Platt said was the burying ground for most of the city’s first settlers.

He said it’s sacred ground — and burial grounds are protected — but there are no stone markers to show it because that’s not how they did it in those days.

Platt said the property where development is being proposed is part of the original home lot of Prudden, a settler of Milford and the first pastor of the First Church.

While burial grounds are protected — and there are historical records to indicate early settlers are buried there — it gets tricky because in those early days they were buried in unmarked graves. Some may have had temporary wooden markers, but not stone memorials because that was considered vain, he said.

Michele Kramer, president of Milford Preservation Trust and a commission member who recused herself at the developer’s request because of her vocal opposition to the project, told the Board of Aldermen that same night Platt spoke that a sign on Interstate 95 touts Milford as historic, but when she goes to visit other historic towns she looks for true history of the people, places and way of life, and not to see “the latest iteration” of a condo or apartment complex.

Historians said the developer promised when he bought the property he would do nothing to change it and would rent it as offices and apartments.

Thomas said it’s not economically feasible to rehab the house because its fallen into such disrepair. He was also asked whether his client can account for insurance money paid for damage to the structure.

Kramer said in the past she’s spoken to the state’s archeologist and he is willing to visit the house.