Vision for downtown Milford includes new businesses, same charm

Imagine a downtown with so much more.

Imagine lots of artwork, pocket parks near the water, a friendlier traffic pattern where one-way streets are made two-way, a walkway over the Wepawaug River, a colorfully lit railroad underpass, restaurants on the water, planters of greenery, ice skating on the duck pond, a grocery, apartments and even cool-weather outdoor dining made possible by fire pits.

All those possibilities and more were among those presented Thursday night by consultant BL Companies, as it held a meeting to present the final Transit-Oriented Development Market Analysis and Conceptual Site Plan. The report, which considers a widearea around the downtown train station, has had input from residents along the way.

The presentation of the vision report — it was emphasized that it was by no means a final plan — was attended by about 100 residents who packed City Hall.

The idea is to enhance key destinations downtown to “grow the tax base, spur economic development, and improve the overall experience of living and visiting downtown,” said BL Companies’ vision statement.

The Downtown Development Committee, led by Pete Smith, got a shout-out from Mayor Ben Blake for all the hard work put into the plan for more than a year.

Blake said he envisions an overhaul that meshes with the existing New England charm of the city. He said some 5,000 commuters travel to and from Milford daily. He envisions an anchor store, such as a small grocer, and changes that will connect the downtown businesses and restaurants to each other and the train station.

Wayne Violette, senior landscape architect with BL Companies, said downtown Milford is a “special place” because of the harbor, walkability, the river, the Green, Milford Arts Council, the library, a farmers market and more.

Part of the goal is to find a way connect the dots, so an “already great” downtown can be made into something better, he said.

Some challenges faced by that same great downtown, he said the study found, include a lack of parking, too many curb cuts, lack of a grocery, intersections that need improving, lack of promotion of key spots.

Some of it can be fixed with simple signage and planters, while some will require more work, including changing traffic patterns and finding the right height mixed-use building of retail and apartments, Violette said.

In addition to improving drivability, the report focuses on improving walkability, as well as making it easier for bicyclists and those who use the bus.

Violette said some recommendations for downtown traffic flow improvement include that portions of River Street and New Haven Avenue that are one-way be made two ways, and that Daniel Street by made one-way.

He also spoke about the recommendation of a multi-story, mixed-use building — of retail, residential — at the corner of River Street and Railroad Avenue. He presented many options for density and height from three to five stories, with parking hidden by the complex itself.

“Why is the density so important?” Violette asked.

“It can have a big impact to the downtown economy.”

Philip Myrick, director of planning services for MIC, a firm working with BL Companies on the project, said part of the focus for him is to create special experiences at Milford’s key destinations.

For instance, Myrick said he can see more emphasis put on pedestrian traffic on Daniel Street, even possibly closing the street to through traffic at a time such as Friday and Saturday night. The tiny Daniel Street is home to popular eateries.

Myrick said he’d like to see something at Factory Lane that invites people to the water right down that street.

Blake and members of the business community announced more than a year ago the acquisition of four properties near the train station to be used for parking to benefit commuters and downtown businesses.

Blake said at the time it was a day to celebrate, as the parking spaces will make downtown more appealing to businesses and commuters, as well as boosting existing businesses.

The parcels that will become parking over the next three years include: 44-64 River St., 0 River St., 145 High St. and 0 Railroad Ave.

The plan calls for a minimum of 300 additional spaces to be created.