Milford City Council saves historic home

MILFORD — The city’s Public Works Director Mark Svaby recommended Monday that City Council authorize razing a historic, publicly owned building next to City Hall.

But the council had other plans.

Mr. Svaby said the building, constructed in 1850, “was purchased back in 2012 for just a bit under $240,000, and at that time, there was an interest in demolishing the property to allow for expansion space for City Hall.”

Since the city bought the property, it has been home to Downtown Milford Inc., a nonprofit formed by the city to aid local development.

Mr. Svaby said an engineering company the city hired confirmed that repurposing the existing building as an extension of City Hall would be pricey.

“Specifically, (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance is going to be cost-prohibitive because it’s actually a postage stamp property with no ability to allow for ADA access,” Mr. Svaby said.

“We are reinforcing our recommendation to have this facility razed, and we would like to do it in spring,” he said. “We expect the actual demolition cost to range between $30,000 and $40,000. That does not count whatever it would take to remove hazardous materials from the property.”

Peggy Reilly, DMI’s president, said the organization will be out of the building by the year’s end and is looking into three new potential locations. The DMI board will decide which one to pursue at an upcoming meeting.

Ms. Reilly did not wish to disclose which three properties DMI is considering.

The home is “special to some members, but for me, it’s probably better for us to be moving right now,” Ms. Reilly said. “The building needs a lot of work, and we do not have the capacity to keep the building the way it should have been kept.”

But members of the council said they don’t want to see the historic home torn down.

“This is actually about two houses over from mine, and I do know that the property does require a good bit of attention,” said Councilman Todd Culotta, a contractor. “The house, from a residential standpoint, is really not in that bad of shape.”

Councilman Culotta recommended that the city have the home appraised and put it on the market for six months to a year. Demolition could be revisited if it hasn’t sold by then, he said.

“If we could get $150,000 to $175,000 out of it on open sale at the market, I would prefer that, not just because I live close to it, but also because it’s a historic house, it’s close to downtown, it does a lot for the aesthetics of downtown,” Councilman Culotta said.

His home was recently appraised at $285,000, so he said he assumes the nearby property could be worth something in that range if renovated properly.

Mr. Svaby said rehabbing the home for commercial purposes would require upgrading the structure to be ADA compliant. This would be “physically prohibitive,” he said, given that the structure is on a small, crowded lot and already perched atop a 3-foot-high retaining wall.

“We’re looking at a residential purpose only,” he said.

The other issue leading Mr. Svaby and City Manager Mark Whitfield to recommend razing the structure is the lack of on-site parking. But Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said this was never an issue for the former owners.

“The family that lived there, they always shared the city of Milford’s parking lot in the back,” she said.

Many members of the council said they would be happy to rekindle that arrangement.

Vice Mayor Jason James said he feels it wouldn’t be prudent for the city to spend $30,000 to tear down the structure after spending over $200,000 to acquire it less than 10 years ago.

“I think we have an obligation to the taxpayer to try and recoup some of that money,” he said.

“If we can recoup any of that money and sell it on the open market, maybe somebody who has the interest or ability to work on old houses would be able to revitalize it, and it would be a win-win for everybody,” Vice Mayor James said.

Mr. Whitfield noted that the structure is not in good shape.

“I would recommend that if you’re going to sell it, that it be sold as-is,” he said.

“Quite honestly, it’s going to need a lot of work to get it ready for sale if you don’t want to sell it as-is,” Mr. Whitfield said. “Just to give you one example, the chimney is pulling away from the house and is sinking, so at some point, someone’s going to have to deal with the entire chimney structure.”

Although Councilman Dan Marabello was on board with the plan to sell the home, he wholeheartedly agreed with Mr. Whitfield’s analysis.

“It will need a lot of work by the buyer,” he said. “I’ve been in that building many times, and whoever buys it will have to put a lot of money into it.”

Ultimately, the council unanimously passed a motion put forward by Councilman Culotta to have the building appraised by a real estate firm and sold on the open market for residential purposes.