Derelict Milford structure turns pink over sidewalk controversy

At a city council meeting in June, Jamie Masten presented his plan to tear down the current structure on the lot at 520 NW Front St. and replace it with a modern office building. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

MILFORD — A derelict building on Northwest Front Street got a fresh coat of paint Monday, going from a dingy yellow to a bright, vibrant pink.

“Basically, the pink speaks for itself,” said the building’s owner, Jamie Masten. “If you’re going to do business in Milford, bring your Pepto.”

He said Milford’s city council does not follow through on its pro-business rhetoric.

“The city talks a pro-growth game but does the opposite in its actions,” Mr. Masten said. “I have tried and tried, and nothing changes. So a bolder statement was necessary.”

At a city council meeting in June, Mr. Masten presented his plan to tear down the current structure on the lot at 520 NW Front St. and replace it with a modern office building. His request to amend the lot’s zoning was approved, but the project got hung up immediately after when the council narrowly rejected his request for a sidewalk waiver.

Mr. Masten believed his request was reasonable given that an adjacent lot had been granted a similar sidewalk waiver and he intended to build out the pathway at a later date anyway.

He said building the sidewalk now would make the project unfeasibly expensive due to the alterations it would make to the road, which would require the Delaware Department of Transportation to be involved.

“When you have to deal with DelDOT, you better put on your patience pants and get out your checkbook,” Mr. Masten said in July. “DelDOT will micromanage the project and take months to approve it. The sidewalk that costs $3,000 to install will cost $25,000 to get engineered, approved and installed.”

Mr. Masten said the public’s response to painting the building pink has been overwhelmingly positive.

But many on the council, including Milford’s Vice Mayor Jason James, believed that the imperative of furthering the city’s sidewalk network was more important.

“You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot looking out for one while not looking out for the all,” Vice Mayor James said. “His sidewalk would be the beginning of connecting the gap” between the residential area around the Parson Thorne Mansion and the Walgreens down the road at the intersection with U.S. 113. “So, to waive him wouldn’t make sense, because then, no one else would ever have connectivity.”

Mr. Masten said Milford has a lot of potential, but that the city can’t get out of its own way in reaching it. He noted the recent departure of restaurants like Bob Evans, Wendy’s and Abbott’s Grill as evidence of the anti-business environment in town.

“Our previous city manager was granted an exception to live outside of the city because he couldn’t find a decent house in town yet. They do nothing to bring change,” he said. “Something has to give, or our property taxes will skyrocket to cover increasing expenses with fewer payers to cover the tab.”

Mr. Masten said the public’s response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’ve had a lot a fun with it,” he said. “It was a nice break from all the COVID and political negativity.”

Mayor Archie Campbell took the public’s affinity for the new color as evidence that Mr. Masten’s plan had failed.

“Everybody loves the pink house,” he said to Milford Police Chief Kenneth Brown at Monday night’s city council meeting. “I think he messed up himself. He probably did it purposely, but it backfired on him.”

“We shouldn’t have anyone run into it now,” said Chief Brown, likely a reference to how the building became derelict in the first place when a driver plowed into it.

Mr. Masten said he’d like to finish the job that the driver started.

“I’d like to tear it down, but I can’t,” he said. “If I can’t rebuild it, I have to at least salvage what’s existing. It’s pretty frustrating to say the least.”