Milford City Council OKs agreement with nature society, large sign for apartment complex

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MILFORD — City Council has approved the Parks & Recreation department’s memorandum of understanding with the Delaware Nature Society, paving the way for educational programming along the Riverwalk.

“We believe they are a great provider of programming, specifically educational-type programming, anything around the water,” Brad Dennehy, Milford’s Parks & Recreation director, said during council’s meeting Monday.

He said the programming could take the form of anything from kayak tours to bird-watching.

“Milford has invested a lot of money in building the infrastructure in terms of the Riverwalk over several years,” Mr. Dennehy said. “I think it really behooves us to enter into this partnership.”

Vice Mayor Jason James agreed, saying he hopes these activities would be a boon for commerce downtown.

“Some of those people that are coming to Milford and Milford residents will come out and find their way to downtown Milford, where they can utilize some of the shops and stores,” he said.

The most controversial and time-consuming element of Monday’s meeting was the discussion of a large sign proposed for the entrance of a newly constructed apartment complex. It ended up being approved but only by a 5-to-3 margin.

The proposed 72-square-foot sign slated for the entrance of the Windward on the River apartments on Beaver Dam Road does not conform with the city’s comprehensive sign code. However, the Planning Commission gave its unanimous blessing last week, despite objections by nearby resident Kathleen Kunkle.

Ms. Kunkle shared her opinion at the council meeting, as well.

“It is a very nice-looking package. The complex is coming along nicely,” she said, but “I’m not in favor of the oversized 11-foot-high sign.”

She believes the large, illuminated design would not match well with her neighborhood’s rural character and that developers should not be permitted to stray from the sign code, which states that signs can only be as large as 64 square feet and as tall as 10 feet.

“I believe the Windward signage plan … is inappropriate for this site,” she said. “This type of sign is better suited for ... directing traffic (near) the commercial part of the development, which fronts Rehoboth (Boulevard).”

She also raised some concerns about visibility for drivers pulling in and out of the complex.

But Nick Hammonds, one of the principles for the limited partnership building the apartments, said he believes the nonconforming sign is in line with the rest of the project’s design.

“For a development of this size and scale — and to reiterate, it’s 264 units at full build-out with 11 three-story buildings — we feel that the entrance sign we’re proposing is compatible with the scale and character of the building size and the design used in the community,” he said.

Mr. Hammonds said the dimensions of this Milford complex are nearly identical to those of a development his firm constructed in Georgetown. There, the company also used a sign of the same dimensions at the entrance and has had no issues, safety-related or otherwise.

Councilman Todd Culotta agreed with Mr. Hammonds’ reasoning.

“The normal ceiling site in a house is 8 feet. If you have higher ceilings, you could go to 10, even 11 feet,” he said. “Eleven feet, while it’s outside of what our current ordinance states, is not that big.”

But some other council members, like Mike Boyle, did not see it the same way.

“Knight Crossing (another upcoming residential project) is going in, and we’re liable to face this conversation again in several months once that gets started, so we’d kind of be looking at setting a precedent for the height of signs on that road,” he said.

Councilman Boyle ultimately voted against the proposition, along with Councilmen Brian Baer and Dan Marabello.

“I like the sign. I like the look of it,” Councilman Boyle said. “I think the sign, where it’s situated, is higher than it has to be, and, then, I’m also looking to the future when we have this discussion with other developments going on on that road.”

Five council members did vote to approve the sign.

“I don’t think the height of 11 feet is out of character for the project, and, with there being no safety issues based on a similar project done in a different town, … I have no problem with the sign,” Vice Mayor James said.

In other action, council also chose the Becker Morgan Group, an architecture firm, to design the city’s new police station.