The Battle of Prospect Street

 

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That fight became known through much of New Haven County. Pizza delivery guys once asked, “Where’s Prospect Street?” but now everyone knew. Lily and Charles, and the rest of the street put sarcastic “For Sale” signs in every yard but the Barneys’. They gathered signatures, forced hearings, sold bumper stickers and eventually took the town and Smith-Craft to court—twice.

Ultimately, though, the developer won out. Smith-Craft demolished one house that had been built in 1805—the Barneys had bought it a few years back—and wedged in four buildings’ worth of one-bedroom  (starting at $1,600) and two-bedroom ($2,100) apartments. They also installed and turned on those lights.

There’s always another side to the story, and, in this case, I found it on the other side of the street. Robert Smith—born and raised in Milford, by the way—pointed out that Yale’s Urban Design Workshop had advised the city that it needed more housing complexes like Prospect Falls. “People who live downtown seek a compact, vibrant, mixed-use community,” Smith says. Downtown Milford’s pubs—and its delis and boutiques and everything else—could use the extra customers, ideally living within walking distance. Its train station could even connect them as commuters to New Haven and New York, which have the two lowest apartment-vacancy rates in the nation.

I also talked to John and Janet Barney—the first interview they’d agreed to in years. In 1951, John’s father, who was one of Milford’s most prominent physicians, moved his family to the house on Prospect Street. John and Janet took over in the 1980s because they thought it would be a good place to raise their children. And it was. They showed me around their lovely home—it was built in 1850—and explained that their connection with Smith went back so far that he and his father had built their family room out back. As John walked me out the front door, he stressed that, in his mind, the apartments fit the community just fine. Then he said goodbye and gave a friendly wave to one of his new neighbors, who was just then pulling into Prospect Falls’ brightly illuminated parking lot.

Many people disagree with the Barneys about that fit. Jeanne Cervin, who just started her third term on Milford’s planning and zoning board, had said as much when she reviewed Prospect Falls’ original application. “I’d much rather not see this happen,” she said during a 2007 meeting. “[But] we have to comply with state and city regulations.” The Flannigans see things Cervin’s way. “I do agree with smart urban planning,” Lily says, “but we felt Prospect Street was different.” Many residents also complain that Prospect Falls, for which the Barneys received more than $2 million, seems like a project where the developers tried to squeeze out every available dollar from the small amount of land involved.

And then there are those lights—so bright with their harsh white glare that it hurts a little to look at them. The Lily Pad, a small bed-and-breakfast right across the street from Prospect Falls, had to replace its blinds with blackout shades after its guests kept complaining. Residents have contacted the mayor, the city planner and various aldermen. “The lights do seem like an intrusion,” Cervin says. “However, they are in compliance with regulations.”

But Cervin does wonder why Smith hasn’t done more to accommodate the residents. “Outside of this,” she says, “Smith-Craft has a history of being quite good to the neighbors.” The people on Prospect Street think it’s Smith’s way of getting the last laugh—“a stick-your-finger-in-our-eye response to us,” as Lily puts it.

Smith says he can’t change the lights because of liability issues and that the fixtures are the same ones used by the city of Milford. But it’s also clear he ran out of patience with Prospect Street a long time ago. At one point Smith-Craft agreed to a compromise—one building, fewer units, more space and a handsome stone wall between the complex and the cemetery—but when they won a pending lawsuit over their original plan, they went back to it instead.

Smith offers a rebuttal here, as well. “We were obligated under our contract with the Barneys to complete the purchase once any one of the approvals was final,” he says. So now Prospect Falls sits so close to the cemetery that, thanks to the street lights, you can stand next to someone’s grave and read a magazine at night. You can do the same thing on the far side of the street, where Lily and the other residents continued putting up anti-illumination yard signs. Then in March they all received letters from Milford’s zoning enforcement officer. Because of “numerous complaints,” the residents of Prospect Street would need to remove their signs.

After all, the letter pointed out, they lived on residential property.
 

The Battle of Prospect Street

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