Residents bristle at some downtown plans

People were outraged at times, surprisingly convinced at other times, as a Yale architect described thoughts of how downtown Milford might look one day.
There were several anger triggers: One was option number three for developing the Fowler Field area. Instead of ball fields and tennis courts, Alan Plattus of Yale’s Urban Design Workshop projected an image on a screen of a waterfront shopping center that would have 60 residential units, 30,000 square feet of retail, and more access to the harbor.

Most of the people who filled a lower-level room at the Milford Public Library Monday for Plattus’s presentation didn’t like that one much. One woman got up and walked out, muttering, “We paid for this?”
The city and Milford Progress Inc., which is a branch of the Chamber of Commerce, hired Plattus and the Urban Design Workshop to help formulate plans for the next Plan of Conservation and Development.
The plan, which must be updated every 10 years, provides a blueprint for how the city will develop in the future. It gives planners a template, so they can steer the kind of development they want in certain areas by offering building incentives and adjusting regulations tailored to the city’s architectural desires.
Plattus has been asked to study several key areas, and on Tuesday he talked about the downtown area and the Cherry Street stretch from Gulf Street to I-95, where Bob’s Stores is.
He proposed several other options for Fowler Field. It can be left as it is, an option he doesn’t support, or there can be minimal changes, such as moving the road that runs between the tennis courts and the water inward so there is more waterfront access for pedestrians.
One proposal had a 28-unit residential building facing New Haven Avenue, located behind the ball field in the far corner of Fowler Field. One ball field would have to be sacrificed for that plan; parking for the building would be virtually underneath it because of the steep slope of the land.
Fowler Field “is full of good stuff,” but they aren’t really related to each other. Plattus said 40% of the area is parking, mostly for commuters. That’s not a great use of a park, and it’s bad for the environment, he said.
The tennis courts and ball fields serve a select population in the city — not everyone, he added.
And, he said, the traffic flow doesn’t make sense.
A number of residents got visibly and vocally angry at certain comments Plattus made. Some said they don’t want to see change at Fowler, that it’s historic and perfect as it is. They bristled when Plattus suggested there is a problem with the traffic flow, as motorists have to drive through one parking lot to get into another.
Some did soften, however, when he pressed on and suggested a parking garage behind the post office someday might lessen the need for parking at Fowler Field and give residents a chance to reclaim the area for better uses.
Residents agreed with Plattus that Cherry Street from Gulf Street to I-95 is an extension of the downtown area, a gateway into the city, but unattractive and out of character with the rest of the city.
“It really looks more like a Route 1,” Plattus said.
One woman called the stretch of road that houses Bob’s, Shop Rite and offices an “eyesore.”
Plattus showed slides depicting how the area could look someday if the city offers incentives and adjusts building regulations to direct future development in the area.
There could be landscaping and a bike lane along Cherry Street. The site of the former movie theater could be a mixed-use commercial and residential development, “where you almost have a neighborhood.”
One resident suggested the site might be developed to look like Milford Marketplace, a commercial development at the site of the old Wayside building.
New shops could be built at the edge of the parking lot in front of Bob’s Stores, close to the road, so that the area doesn’t appear to be all parking lot. Parking would be between the front buildings and the stores in the rear.
He said he wouldn’t suggest changing the end of Cherry Street between the green and Gulf Street, where older homes have largely been turned into office buildings. He also has no plans to touch Wilcox Park or the boat ramp area in the immediate downtown area.
City Historian Richard Platt objected to talk about commercial development. He said he feared “creeping commercial” development into the more historic parts of downtown.
Additional meetings were scheduled later in the week, focusing on different areas.
Plattus and his group plan to take the information gathered at the meetings to compile a recommendation for the Planning and Zoning Board to consider using in its Plan of Conservation and Development.