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Milford eyes property for industrial, commercial expansion

Katie Tabeling
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Milford city officials are in exploring buying 128 acres of land to expand industrial and commercial room for the booming town. | DBT PHOTO COURTESY THE CITY OF MILFORD

MILFORD — Milford city officials are exploring whether to buy more than 100 acres from a farming family in a bid to attract retail and small to medium manufacturers to the growing boom town.

The Milford City Council recently authorized City Manager Mark Whitfield to start negotiations of the 182-acre land on the corner of Route 14 and Canterbury Road, which is owned by the Fry family. A letter of intent was signed on May 11 between the city and Ralph B. Fry and the Fry family, who have been farmers in Kent County for years.

Milford officials are currently in the 120-day due diligence phase, which includes appraising the property to determine a final sale figure. Settlement is expected by Oct. 1.

“Milford sits in a strategically good location with good access to Route 1, Route 113 and Route 13, as well as west access to the Bay Bridge …. [the city is also] the center of Delmarva peninsula, making us a great location for an e-commerce distribution hub,” Whitfield said in a statement. “The proposed purchase will allow us to be competitive with other cities in the area, and satisfy the need to create jobs within the city.”

The Fry family had been looking to sell the 182-acre plot of land that sits right across from Milford’s Public Works Facility for at least five years. The land has been currently zoned a combination of R-3 (Garden Apartment and Townhouse) and C-3 (Highway Commercial), but it has sat vacant except for a wheat field  A representative of Masten Realty, who represented the Fry family, was not immediately available for comment on why the Fry family decided to sell the land to the city.

Milford will be submitting a comprehensive plan amendment request to the Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination for comments before holding public hearings with the Milford Planning Commission and city council later this summer. If the comprehensive plan amendment is approved, the land could be rezoned to accommodate industrial and commercial uses. 

From a growth perspective, Milford  Economic Development and Community Engagement Administrator Sara Pletcher said the land buy makes perfect sense as Milford looks to support its growing population. The city, which is split between Kent and Sussex counties along the Mispillion River, has about 11,000 residents today but is expected to grow to upward of 16,000 by 2050, according to the Delaware Population Consortium.

Milford’s primary industrial park has five plots left, capping out prospects to maybe 10 acres total. The Milford City Council held an executive meeting on April 6 to discuss prospects for a land buy to continue buoying its success.

“If you look at this area, there’s a good portion facing Route 14 that would make it ideal for commercial development in the vein of a strip mall with restaurants and retail,” Pletcher told the Delaware Business Times. “As you look at the interior of the land, it could be subdivided into lots for industrial and commercial uses.”

One drawback of developing the Fry family land is infrastructure, as it lacks water, sewer and electricity. There is a possibility there will need to be a water tower on site, Pletcher said. The rough estimate for infrastructure costs is $10 million, and Milford officials plan to sell off the lots and lay the infrastructure with reserved funds, replenishing it with proceeds from the sale.

As it stands, there are no prospects for the property now, Pletcher said. The hope is to start marketing the land for manufacturers looking for 1,000 to 5,000 square feet of space, either with local businesses or new prospects.

“The Kent Economic Partnership has seen an increase in requests for industrial warehousing and manufacturing sites,” Kent Economic Partnership Executive Director Linda Parkowski said in a statement. “With the addition of the Milford industrial area, we will be able to increase our limited supply of large industrial tracks.”

But Pletcher notes that roughly four years ago, Milford was projected to build 10,000 homes within a decade. At this point, the city has reached 40% of that benchmark and to meet the rising residential development, the city will need to draw more employment options and quality-of-life amenities.

“The more homes we have here, the more infrastructure and amenities we need because people are looking for it,” Pletcher said. “Milford would be greatly interested in forming a public-private partnership for the commercial development, because it would make it that much easier to bring those retail amenities in.”

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