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Can “The Square” be revived?

Chris Reilly-2
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Cliftondale Revitalization Committee’s Final Report draft copy concludes it’s possible to spark new life into the town’s dying business and housing district

  A 1990 study produced by Lozano, White & Associates – one of more than a half dozen studies done over the last four decades on revitalizing Cliftondale Square – offered two planning alternatives: no change or a plan advocating mixed use with incentives.

  The town chose the “do nothing” path over the mixed use with incentives alternative, according to a draft copy of the latest study that was issued this week. “As the study indicated, the Square would continue to struggle with a passive approach like that one, and it has,” noted the conclusion section of the “Final Report of the Cliftondale Revitalization Committee.”

  But the report also resolves that a major turnaround of Cliftondale is possible, providing the town, the property owners of Cliftondale and other stakeholders are committed. “There are challenges in perhaps every category there is, from parking, to dimensional restrictions, to absentee ownership, to restrictive zoning, to lack of vision at a municipal level,” the report acknowledges.

  “To continue the ‘do nothing’ approach would be a disservice to the citizens, the business community, and the Town of Saugus at-large.”

  There are close to two dozen short-term and long-term recommendations in the heart of the report, including a proposal to create a zoning overlay district “that allows highest and best use” implementing smart growth principles.”

  “Cliftondale’s zoning is antiquated and as a result, the district has become stagnant, and the current business mix and lack of 24/7 vitality is contributing to its deterioration,” the report said. “A zoning overlay would lay the appropriate framework and be the first step towards revitalization. Section 1.6 includes a comprehensive list of zoning guidelines and an action plan. This process can certainly be completed within the next few years, if not sooner.”

  The 467-page report and the 11-member town committee which is crafting it are the products of a unanimous Special Town Meeting vote in February. Town Meeting members created the study committee to focus on revitalization of Cliftondale. The group’s responsibility was to investigate potential opportunities, synthesize previous studies, investigate zoning strategies and provide recommendations and initiatives for future Town Meeting consideration.

  The committee has until Jan. 12 to make any changes in the document that was drafted and released this week by Committee Chair Joe Vecchione, who authored the Town Meeting article earlier this year. The committee will vote at its Jan. 17 meeting on whether to adopt the final report, which will be presented to the next Special Town Meeting or Annual Town Meeting, whichever occurs first.

  The report’s conclusion stresses that “This committee was formed to contest the notion that nothing can be done by breaking out each issue present in Cliftondale and elaborating on why the issues is present then begin to construct a vision for the area through a thorough zoning guideline and implementable action plan along with recommendations for short term and long-term projects and initiatives.”

  “This committee believes we accomplished that in this report, and while much of this will fall beyond the scope of this committee, we hope that this report in conjunction with the data and analysis collected over the past 39 years will yield the physical and meaningful results that the town has long been striving for,” the report continued. “However, in order to achieve true and sustainable revitalization in Cliftondale, commitment, continuity, trust, and patience needs to be acquired both in the public and private sectors.”

  In concluding its work with a presentation to Town Meeting members, the committee also recommends that Town Administration, Town Meeting, and other relevant bodies endorse the initiatives that may be brought forth for consideration from this report.

  The report recommends:

  • Reforming the merchants’ association or establishing a “Friends of Cliftondale” committee
  • Developing a Parking Management Plan
  • Creating a Signage Plan
  • Bringing back “Appreciation Day”
  • Relocating the Farmer’s Market back into Cliftondale
  • Getting Cliftondale Online. It’s important to develop an online presence so people know what services or products are sold, what their hours of operation are, how to get in contact, and potentially even provide e-commerce.
  • Branding Cliftondale Square as its own “place”
  • Developing a Façade / Storefront Improvement Program that would provide financial assistance to property owners or tenants seeking to renovate or restore commercial building exterior facades. The program seeks to increase accessibility into storefronts and improve the physical appearance of independent businesses.
  • Capitalizing on connections to the Northern Strand Community Trail
  • Investing in the beautification and cleanup of Cliftondale
  • Communicating with MBTA and petitioning the state delegation to replace noncompliant bus stop enclosure in the rotary
  • Connecting more effectively with Cliftondale stakeholders
  • Encouraging public art and creating a “Blank Wall” mural program
  • Providing increased public safety at targeted times
  • Providing infrastructural and permanent aesthetic upgrades to encourage “downtown” development
  • Constructing a municipal parking lot or parking garage
  • Refining traffic patterns utilizing MassDOT’s regulations
  • Establishing a Business Improvement District (BID) or implementing District Improvement Financing (DIF)
  • Becoming a General Member and establishing Cliftondale as a “Main Streets” program
  • Creating a town-owned, multipurpose open space

  “Looking at the bigger picture, it is impossible for the Town to tackle every issue in Cliftondale simultaneously,” the report emphasized.

  “We must approach these issues in a more manageable scale that can be performed within our municipal budget, with a capital improvement plan over several years,” it stated.

  “The committee doesn’t find it necessary or realistic to implement every single recommendation laid out in this report. This report seeks to lay out the various opportunities present that could be implemented if the Town of Saugus is committed to revitalization in Cliftondale.”

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