Milton Town Council says it's buying a Federal Street property to provide more public parking – even though no one on council yet knows how many parking spaces will be available.
What to do with the 1,472-square-foot historic home on the nearly half acre parcel at 112 Federal St. across from town hall is secondary, said Mayor Marion Jones.
“What we have done is purchase a piece of property,” she said. “Erroneously, it's been noted that we bought a house. The house happens to be on the property.”
Vice Mayor John Booros said the town began searching for land on the Federal Street side of downtown after commercial property owners expressed a need for additional parking. After it became apparent it would be cost prohibitive – as much as $6,000 per month – to rent or lease land, he said, the town looked into acquiring property. They landed on the Federal Street property at a price of $150,000.
“The intent was to look for parking for that side of town,” Booros said.
The nearest public parking areas for folks shopping on Federal Street are a lot on Magnolia Street across from the historical society, behind the library at Memorial Park and the two lots at Mill Park on Mulberry Street – all several blocks away. While often used by the public, the lots at M&T Bank across the river from Memorial Park and the abutting fire department lot are both private. Only street parking is available for most downtown businesses.
Council could not estimate how many additional parking spaces would be gained from the land acquisition.
“I wouldn't even try to speculate how it can or could be designed,” Jones said. “I don't even have an educated guess on it.”
She said it's difficult because the rear end of the property has a shed and a brush-covered slope down to the Broadkill River.
Initially, Booros said, he wanted to raze the home, but because it is within the town's historic district it cannot be torn down. He said the home can be moved elsewhere in the historic district, sit vacant for the time being or rented out.
Councilman John Collier said his focus is on parking, first and foremost.
“I've never viewed this as purchasing a home; it's a purchasing a piece of property,” he said. “The discussion of what could be done with the building was purely speculative on parts of some members of council, including myself.”
When council voted to move forward with the sale in November, many council members saw the building as a potential location for some of the town's civic organizations, such as the chamber of commerce or art guild, or possibly a future annex to nearby town hall.
“If we move forward with this purchase, we have to at least maintain the facade and integrity of the structure if we choose to do nothing with it in the immediate time,” Collier said. “We'll have to do that to preserve it for whatever we may do in the future.
“Over time, we're going to have to put some money into it. I'm not sure I'm looking at it like we're going to have to restore it to a pristine, habitable facility anytime in the near future.”
The cost of renovations concerned some residents.
“I spent three times the purchase price to make my house a house,” said resident Barbara Wagner, who lives in a historic home on Federal Street. “I would not want to be a taxpayer here shouldering a burden of unforeseen expenses for this purchase.”
Council met Dec. 9 to discuss the home's inspection before moving forward with the sale. It voted to ask the seller to treat the home for termites and wood-boring beetles. Other minor issues were found in the inspection, but council chose to move forward without asking for additional repairs.
At council's Dec. 2 meeting, Vice Mayor Leah Betts questioned whether the town had enough money to pay for the land purchase.
“I was wondering where we were going to get the money, $150,000, to pay for that building when we've had to cut the budget on each of our departments of the town,” she said.
Councilman Mike Coté said Milton can afford the property.
“Yes, we do have the money available,” he said. “There will be money left over for emergencies; there will just be less.”
Booros said, “Nobody ever said this town didn't have any money. We told these people, the division heads and the branch heads, they were going to tighten their belts and stop spending taxpayers' money frivolously.”
Councilman Emory West also questioned the need for spending money on the property when it could be used elsewhere in town.
“You're asking the taxpayer to foot this bill when there are other things that are more prioritized than buying this property for a parking lot,” he said.
Collier argued that additional parking has been a priority for downtown business owners for many years.
“There has been a continual line of people who have come in here and said we need to invest in our downtown,” he said. “This is probably the first opportunity that has arisen to make a significant investment in our downtown that might actually have some use.”