Public outcry credited in reversing Milford’s eminent domain pursuit

By Elle Wood
Posted 2/22/24

MILFORD—Citizen’s outcry turned into allowing Annette Billings to keep her property.

Many people were left confused and did not know what the facts of the case were.

It all …

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Public outcry credited in reversing Milford’s eminent domain pursuit


MILFORD — Public outcry turned into allowing Annette Billings to keep her property.

Many people were left confused and did not know what the facts of the case were.

It all started back in 2021 with the City Strategic Plan. It was developed to reach the needs of the residents in Milford.

The city reached out to the public to find out what their needs were. Some of the needs that were highlighted was the growth of parks and recreational spots in the city, according to the statement sent out by the city of Milford on Wednesday afternoon.

With the results, the city began to look at different areas in the city limits and areas on the outskirts of the limits that were underdeveloped. The sites could be used as “green ways” to recreational sites.

So, in 2021 an architect helped to develop a sketch that included playgrounds, walk or bike paths and more to accommodate the needs that the residents had expressed. Around the same time the plan was developed, the Sharp family property was put up for sale.

It was about 19 acres, and the city council voted unanimously to purchase the property. The property was outside limits, they thought it would be a good place to connect the paths.

This plan also included thoughts about purchasing the former Rookery golf course, however the plan was derailed when the owners decided to continue to operate as a golf course.

In 2023, the city worked with another architect for a new plan with the purchase of the Sharp property. It would connect Rehoboth Boulevard to the parks with a bike path, according to the statement from the city.

However, the plan could not be completed because of the eight-acre property owned by Annette Billings. The city explained that they contacted her originally in 2021 where they did an appraisal and gave her an offer for the property, but she did not reply.

Another appraisal was done in 2023 and she was offered the $20,000. In an executive session in September 2023, the city wanted to find ways to work with Ms. Billings.

The result was a vote of seven to one in an open session of a city council meeting to proceed with eminent domain of the property, according to the statement from Milford.

The city’s intent was different than what they originally had planned for. At the beginning of February, residents began to understand what was going on, and stood by Ms. Billings to try to keep her property.

“Over the last four years, City Council and Staff’s only interest in pursuing the project was with the intent of providing open space and walking/biking paths, as well as other passive and active recreational opportunities for not only now, but far into the future, which addressed what we heard from citizens in 2021,” the city stated in their statement.

Spreading the word

After the word was spread through social media and the city council meetings, more and more people were becoming involved in the fight against the city.

One of the advocates for her was James J. Weller of Weller’s Utility Trailers and Weller Does Delmarva radio. He allowed Ms. Billings to speak on his radio show and help more people learn what was happening.

“I started spreading the word and went to one of the town council meetings,” said Mr. Weller. “It just seemed like a real injustice, to me it was a shame, she was a cancer survivor, she’s a widow, she doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars for to devote to legal troubles and it just seemed like something to get behind.”

On Feb. 12 the council held a meeting and during the public comment period many people, including Ms. Billings, spoke to the council about the controversy hoping their opinions were heard. Another meeting was held on Wednesday where more people spoke during the public comment period.

Following the public comments, the council went to an executive session and the people in attendance waited anxiously to hear what would happen to Ms. Billings and her property.

Councilman Andrew Fulton made the motion to go into settlement with Ms. Billings for a competitive compensation for the property. The motion was voted four to four with the deciding vote from Mayor Campbell who voted against the settlement.

Then, Councilwoman Katrina Wilson made another motion to terminate the eminent domain altogether. The vote was six votes for the termination and two that abstained.

Mr. Weller believed that the residents speaking up for Ms. Billings helped push the council members to change their thinking about the plan.

“Last night (Feb. 21 council meeting) was different,” said Mr. Weller. “I think that they thought it was a little old lady that they were going to take her land.”

“I think they had a heart change last night in my personal opinion.”

Jamie Masten, of Masten Realty, had a billboard placed on U.S. 113 just south of Redner’s in Milford. The purpose was to raise awareness of the decisions made by the council and get more people involved in supporting Ms. Billings.

Another resident who worked to build a support system for Ms. Billings was Julie Morris. She is a Milford resident who wanted to get justice for what happened to one of her neighbors.

Although it was a case related directly to Ms. Billings, Ms. Morris believes it was something bigger than eminent domain.

She believed that the citizens were not being informed of everything that was going on in the city. It was not put in terms that the residents could understand until it was almost too late.

“We (the residents) had no idea, and that’s what is the most surprising to me,” said Ms. Morris. “I was trying to get anyone in the media to pick this up.”

Even with little knowledge, the residents were able to rally for Ms. Billings and get the council to support Ms. Billings as well.

“It’s the first time anyone has ever beaten town hall on the same night it is presented,” said Mr. Weller. “It was a great night and feeling in the room.”

Calls to City Hall about the controversy were left unanswered.

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