Milford Planning Commission brainstorms possible code amendments

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MILFORD — The city’s leadership hopes to update the zoning and subdivision codes this year, so the Planning Commission and other figureheads began Tuesday brainstorming what that may look like.

City Solicitor David Rutt hopes to change the way residents are notified about potential construction in their neighborhoods.

“Where you have the 15-day notice in the newspaper, I would also suggest that it be on the website and posted to public places (like) on the bulletin board there in City Hall and maybe at the library,” he said.

Rob Pierce, the city’s planning and economic development director, wanted to go even further.

“We don’t physically post (on) the property. Most other jurisdictions will go out and put a public notice on the site,” he said.

“That way, if you don’t get the mailing or you don’t see the newspaper, you ride by and see this yellow sign that kind of catches your eye,” Mr. Pierce said. “You can go over and get some more information about (it). It’s just another level of public outreach.”

The duo also hopes to strike discretionary language from the code wherever possible, which would make administering the code simpler and less controversial in certain cases.

For example, Mr. Pierce said that in the site-review section — which requires designs for traditional subdivisions, town home tracts and shopping centers to be reviewed — also has a clause allowing the city planner to require a resident or developer to have any other site plan reviewed.

Both he and Mr. Rutt want to take away this discretionary power.

“I think it needs to be a little clearer what determines needing a review,” Mr. Pierce said.

“To the extent we cannot have discretionary language, we’d be better off because once you start doing that, if you rule one way on one thing and then a different way on another, you’re going to have somebody mad,” Mr. Rutt said.

“You’re better off having objective criteria on any of these things.”

Mr. Pierce had an idea for a process to address this situation.

“I would like to make this similar to what Smyrna, Dover and Kent County do,” he said. “They base (site plan-review requirements) on square footage limitations.”

For example, if a project disturbs more than 5,000 square feet or some other amount to be determined, it would require the submission of a site plan. Any project that would disturb less than that could simply be submitted as an amendment to an existing site plan.

Mr. Pierce also floated extending the standard expiration period for projects under review and making it harder to get subsequent extensions.

“(Kent) County had 18 months and then a six-month discretionary period,” he said. “They recently changed that to 24 months. They figured that if you can’t get your project from preliminary to final in 24 months, there’s got to be bigger things going on.”

The planner wants to put that in place in Milford, as well.

“I was looking to stretch out that preliminary expiration to 24 months,” Mr. Pierce said. “We could draw a harder line (for subsequent extensions) and say you have to show that you can demonstrate some unique extenuating circumstance or hardship.”

Planning Commissioner Shelby DiCostanzo thought this was a good idea.

“Do we leave in there that they could still come back for an extension and leave it up to the commission?” Mr. Pierce asked her.

“With extenuating circumstances, yes, so we can review it on a case-by-case basis,” Ms. DiCostanzo said. “Something crazy could happen like a pandemic.”

But Chairman Marvin Sharp saw an issue.

“I have a problem with exceptions,” he said. “It needs to be put in writing one way and left there.”

Ian Wright, a new member of the committee who stepped up from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board when former Commissioner Katherine Stetson left, said there would need to be a list of clearly defined extenuating circumstances.

Commissioner Mark Redden added, “A pandemic probably wouldn’t be on the list because how often does that happen?”

The group discussed a wide array of other possibilities for amendments to the code, including requiring noise-blocking berms for residential developments along Del. 1 and U.S. 113, requiring landscaping in parking lots and allowing some processes or applications to be carried out administratively rather than by the Planning Commission or Board of Adjustment.

The commission will continue discussing possible amendments to the code at workshops scheduled for 5:30 p.m., before the official meetings start each third Tuesday of the month, until this summer, when Mr. Pierce hopes to submit a plan for amendments to City Council.