Shoreline appearance faces changes

With new regulations that call for many shoreline homes to be elevated so that living space is above ground level, and with bigger, more modern houses replacing small cottages, the face of Milford’s shoreline is changing .
Alan Plattus and his associates, representing Yale’s Urban Design Workshop, led residents in a public meeting last week to talk about directing development along the shore to ensure that despite change over the next decades, Milford’s shoreline remain attractive.

Plattus started the meeting by showing residents pictures of what used to mark the city beaches: Some smaller beach cottages, and in other areas, larger homes with big windows and front porches that helped create a neighborhood feel.
Today the look has changed in many areas. Vinyl siding has replaced clapboard siding, and renovated homes now often feature big garages that face streetside, creating a colder, more impersonal look from the street.
Storms, redevelopment and changing regulations have paved the way for this new look, Plattus said.
“The streetscape has suffered,” he said. “In some areas, the garage starts to dominate the front of the house, so the street becomes like an alleyway.”
Residents raised some of their own concerns. One man asked if there is any way to regulate against “ugly development,” which he said he has seen popping up on Milford’s shoreline.
Plattus said some communities actually create a design review component of the building process, but that then creates a panel of people whose opinion on attractive design takes precedence over other peoples’ opinions.
“Sometimes it works well, and sometimes people call them the design police,” Plattus said.
Tom Ivers, who lives along the beach, asked if federal regulations trump residents’ opinions about what Milford’s shorefront homes should look like in the future.
He also wondered if regulations might create blight along the shoreline. Since many homeowners are required to elevate their homes if they want to get permits to make improvements, they might just start letting them fall into disrepair because raising a house above ground level is so expensive.
Plattus focused less on the cost aspect, which is plaguing many shorefront property owners, and talked about design, which is what the city hired him to do.
He pointed out that regulations and the associated costs of elevating homes may lead to people selling their property to buyers who can afford to elevate them.
Plattus also said that while government regulations can call for raising homes to protect them from flooding, the regulations don’t control all aspects of the home’s appearance, and that’s why people need to start talking now about these issues.
Of about 50 people who attended the meeting at the Milford Public Library, about half indicated they live along the beach. Several said they are concerned about homes that are renovated too large or too high. Plattus said creating new regulations can help control that. He also said residents can create incentives for people to adhere to a certain look when they renovate by, for example, letting them add a structure to the top of their house that exceeds the height requirements if they agree to other aesthetic improvements.
A Point Beach resident said there should be conformity regarding the height of elevated homes. Homes have been raised over the years in her neighborhood to protect them from flooding, and they are all different heights, she said.
“One house is 3.5 stories high and it’s out of character with the neighborhood,” she said, adding, “I don’t think anything can be done about it because it’s already done.”
Plattus said her input and ideas could help other neighborhoods over the years.
The Planning and Zoning Board held a series of three public meetings last week to gather and exchange information on four specific topics for the update of the Plan of Conservation and Development.
Plattus is a consultant hired by the Chamber of Commerce group Milford Progress Inc., and he is working with Milford officials on creating a sustainable plan for future development.
The resulting information from these meetings will be presented to the Planning and Zoning Board at a July 17 public hearing.
The Plan of Conservation and Development provides the city's roadmap for future development and lays the groundwork for regulation and zoning decisions in the city. Last adopted in 2002, the plan must be updated every 10 years for the city to qualify for discretionary state funding, such as open space and other competitive grant programs.