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Milford at the tipping point

January 8, 2014

Small towns are fragile, none more so than Milford, a town of a half-mile square that sits on the edge of the largest and most economically active metropolitan region in America. The fact that it exists, mostly intact, is a testament to its citizens and some luck. But it is facing a major change that could end up being the tipping point of protecting this national treasure.

The proposed new courthouse annex will tear down the Queen Ann Kenworthey House in Milford’s National Historic District, and replace it with the new courthouse annex, a building fully one third larger than the historic Pike County courthouse. The new annex is equivalent to putting a big box store right on Broad Street. Their proposed plan will render Milford’s National Historic District powerless to stop any future teardowns of historic structures. All that would be needed is the claim that it “costs too much.”

The Pike County commissioners have released a cost analysis of an alternative of placing the new annex behind the existing courthouse, thus preserving the National Historic District. While I very much appreciate the consideration of this sensible alternative, I strongly take issue with the findings. The commissioners have dismissed the alternative location on the basis of a limited and somewhat questionable cost estimate. For example, Verizon proposes to “charge” more than $500,000 to move their fiber optic cable, a task this company does all over the nation as a cost of doing business. And, the analysis does not consider the “costs” to the economy and our incredibly special small town. There also seem to be a number of ways of reducing the cost of the annex, or of increasing off-setting revenue, such as selling the Miller Oil property and getting it back on the tax rolls and bringing in a new business.

Milford is a national treasure. Laid out by Circuit Court Judge John Biddis following William Penn’s plan for Philadelphia—America’s first city laid out on a grid with alleys and a center square fronted by the seat of government—Milford follows Philadelphia’s plan, even down to naming the main street Broad Street and the central cross street High Street. Milford has stood the test of time. Its village center’s charm and the protections provided by an historic district and architectural review board have made Milford a safe place for investment and also a very special place for its residents.