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How can the town revitalize Cliftondale Square? The chair of the town’s Cliftondale Square Revitalization Committee shares survey results on what Saugus residents think

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SHARING HIS RESEARCH: Joe Vecchione, chair of the town’s Cliftondale Square Revitalization Committee, presents results of a survey he initiated on what Saugus residents would like to see in efforts to revitalize Cliftondale Square. (Saugus Advocate photo by Mark E. Vogler)

How can the town revitalize Cliftondale Square?

The chair of the town’s Cliftondale Square Revitalization Committee shares survey results on what Saugus residents think

  (Editor’s Note: Joe Vecchione, a Precinct 2 Town Meeting member and the chair of the town’s Cliftondale Square Revitalization Committee, shared the results of a recent survey he conducted of 364 residents on issues related to the revitalization. The following are excerpts from his Power Point presentation from Monday’s [June 28] “Cliftondale Community Forum.”)

  Background: The Cliftondale Revitalization Committee was established by a Special Town Meeting vote in February and first met on April 7. The committee’s primary purpose is to provide recommendations to the executive branch of Saugus town government and to better inform the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), which is drafting a revised Master Plan, titled “Saugus United 2035,” that will inform the Town’s direction for the next 15 years.

  “We have and continue to reference previous studies conducted over a 40-year period and brainstorm ways to implement several of the recommendations that were consistent across previous studies.

  “We are still in ‘data collection and discovery mode’. This forum and survey will be a large part of the report that will be issued in November as we synthesize this information.

  “This committee has recommended short term goals to the Town Manager, preferred locations for flashing crossing beacons procured by the State and advocated for the application for the Shared Streets and Spaces grant offered by the state to spark investment into the square. The Town did apply for a $100,000 grant which is still pending.”

Previous Studies & Plans

  1982 Cliftondale Square Revitalization Project – MAPC

  1988 Master Plan

  1990 Town of Saugus Land Use Policy Plan – Lozano, White & Associates

  2004 Saugus Community Development Plan

  2015 ULI Technical Assistance Panel Report for Cliftondale Square – Mass Development

  2016 Cliftondale District Assessment & Market Analysis – Finegold & Associates

  2018 Saugus Walk Assessment – WalkBoston

  2021 Cliftondale Parking and Egress Assessment (pending)

  2022 Saugus United 2035 Master Plan – MAPC (pending)

Survey Metrics

  There were 364 people who responded to a survey conducted from May 30-June 24. A majority of respondents have resided in Saugus for 10 years or greater with a critical mass of respondents residing here greater than 40 years. Most respondents are in the 45-54 year old demographic (Median age: 49). Most people have not participated in efforts to revitalize this neighborhood to date. Most people do not know Saugus is in the process of developing a town-wide Master Plan (57 percent of respondents)

What are the most critical issues facing Cliftondale?

  1. Parking (Shocking, isn’t it?)
  2. Lack of Amenities (No reason to visit) – #1 for those 34 years old and under
  3. Traffic mitigation and Vehicular Circulation
  4. Municipal / Stakeholder Inaction & Lack of Vision
  5. Underutilized / Vacant Storefronts
  6. Pedestrian Safety
  7. Cleanliness / Rodent issues
  8. Outdated Zoning
  9. Limited housing stock / Investment Opportunity (lack of 24/7 vitality)
  10. Public Transportation

What discourages you from visiting Cliftondale?

  “Not much there, nothing of interest, no incentive to stop”

  “Lack of parking – [when] crossing the road, you take your life in your hands”

  “I’ve moved to online banking”

  “Businesses I used to frequent have closed”

  “Inconsistent, limited or unposted hours of operation for existing businesses”

  “Doesn’t feel safe to walk or bike there”

  “There are better downtowns in driving distance (Melrose / Wakefield)”

  “Lack of appeal: Everything looks rundown and dirty”

  “Inefficient rotary and people don’t know how to use it”

  “We just spend money on study after study and nothing happens”

How safe do you feel in Cliftondale (1 = Not Safe / 5 = Very Safe)

  Overall Average: 2.9 / 5.0.

  Seniors (65+) generally feel that the square is not very safe (2.5 / 5.0).

  In the 35-64 demographic, while they typically feel safer than seniors in the square (3.0 / 5.0), they prefer an added police presence in Cliftondale (58%).

  The same percentage of seniors prefer an added police presence in Cliftondale (58%).

  Feedback references issues present in the square, particularly in the evening hours.

  Residents who reside near Cliftondale generally believe Cliftondale is less safe than those who live outside of Cliftondale.

  Younger People (34 years old in under) generally feel slightly safer (3.1 / 5.0). They also think, by a slight majority, that no additional police presence is required in Cliftondale (47%).

  Drug use and perceived crime in the square were two factors that were brought up by respondents.

Pedestrian Safety – “Where are the most troublesome areas”

  Big picture: Per respondents’ answers, almost every part of Cliftondale was mentioned. The most mentioned areas were, in order:

  1. Crossing at Post Office
  2. Rotary (specifically Lincoln to Essex yield)
  3. Jackson Street (at junction of Essex Street)
  4. Crowds at Banana Splitz (primarily summer months)
  5. Corner coming around the curve at St. Margaret’s (speed)
  6. Congestion due to parking on both sides of Lincoln. Lack of crossing visibility
  7. Sidewalk parking limiting pedestrian access on sidewalks (lack of consistent enforcement)

Mixed Use in Cliftondale Square

  Current zoning does not currently permit mixed-use or any housing use (B-1).

  Overlays have been adopted by Town Meeting in the past 10 years on Route 1, Mill District and Waterfront District.

  Existing mixed-use (3-4 story buildings near the rotary) is grandfathered in.

  Attitudes on permitting mixed-use were the most varied of all questions within this survey. Analytics show a strong generational divide.

  Younger respondents (18-34) along with seniors (65+) favor the permitting of mixed-use in Cliftondale whereas middle aged respondents (55-64) strongly oppose it.

  Many respondents referenced “adverse” large-scale residential developments on Route 1 has created a general distaste for “mixed use” and “smart growth” development.

  The overwhelming majority of respondents who answered “Yes” to an overlay that permits mixed use prefer that development be at a modest scale that aligns with the existing grandfathered mixed use (3-4 stories).

  Respondents who live near Cliftondale Square are less receptive to mixed use (60% oppose) whereas respondents who live more than a half mile from the square was a 50/50 split. This statistic implies that NIMBYism is present in Cliftondale Square.

Getting around in Cliftondale

  426 Bus to Haymarket / Central Square, 426W to Wonderland / Central Square, 429 Bus to Linden Square / North Saugus and 430 Bus to Malden / Saugus Center currently serve Cliftondale.

  Recent MBTA cuts removed 428 (Haymarket / Oaklandvale).

  “Car is king” in Saugus with 88% of people driving or carpooling to work per recent MAPC survey. Only 8% of respondents take public transportation to work. In all demographics, the survey shows that we are well served in terms of public transportation in Cliftondale.

  The bus shelter in Cliftondale Square is not currently ADA accessible.

  While most respondents stated that they would not prefer bike lanes connected to the Northern Strand Community Trail, younger people were more receptive with 52% of respondents between 18-34 answering “Yes”.

  Transit oriented development (TOD) has been implemented in many communities nearby. Public transit is an asset in Cliftondale.

Infrastructure in Cliftondale

  Most people believe major realignments in traffic patterns are required in Cliftondale. There is an incoming traffic and egress study to study the impacts of traffic realignments. Jackson Street residents have expressed concern about potentially rerouting traffic and creating one ways to ease congestion within the square and provide better vehicular circulation / parking.

  Most respondents think sidewalks within the business district should expand to allow sideway amenities or possibly small outdoor dining opportunities for future restaurant use.

  Many respondents referred to heavy trucking through Cliftondale being an issue.

  Potential curb cut extensions and traffic calming measures have been studied in the 2018 WalkBoston study conducted by the Town to create a more efficient rotary and clearly delineated traffic pattern.

The ever-present issue of parking

  It is without question that parking is the single most important issue in Cliftondale based on the respondent input and this committee has already reached out to various parties to understand the opportunities, challenges and doors that need to be closed for now.

  Main Issue: All off street parking is privately owned and the town needs to purchase, lease or make an agreement with a private entity in order to use the lot.

  For example…

  May 6, 2021 –

  “The [St. Margaret] parking lot is not in play for any of these discussions. It is simply not available, not for a garage, not for parking meters, not for use by anyone other than St. Margaret parishioners during church services, funerals, etc. We would strongly suggest you look elsewhere to solve the parking issues in Cliftondale Square.”

  – Archdiocese of Boston

  “Ownership” and lack of shared parking: 184 Privately Owned Lot Parking | 74 Public Street Parking

  “Ownership” and lack of shared parking are contributing to the perceived issues of parking in the square. Opportunity for public / private partnership.

  In addition, fence barriers between properties greatly affect efficiency of lots.

  No parking management plan is currently in place which leads to vastly underutilized parking that does not respond to the diversity of business hours in Cliftondale. No painted line street parking on Lincoln which leads to inefficient use of existing spots.

  Lack of enforcement or means to enforce timed parking. Meters vs. Consistent Enforcement

The big question – What’s next?

  We asked respondents what they want to see short term, in the next 3-5 years, and 10 years down the line.

  How do we incentivize property owners and business owners to invest? How do we attract new businesses? How do we attract foot traffic to Cliftondale? What can be implemented to help facilitate revitalization?

  What does revitalization mean to you?

What should be permitted in Cliftondale?

  Restaurant / Bar / Café / Brewery

  “Anything”

  Independent Shops

  Housing

  Outdoor seating

  Pharmacy

  Hardware Store

  Open / Green Space

What shouldn’t be permitted in Cliftondale?

  Marijuana Dispensary

  Hair / Nail Salons

  Vape / Smoke Shops

  Industrial Use

  Housing

  Banking

  Liquor Stores

  Post Office

Short Term / Inexpensive Improvements

  “Increase trash receptacles”

  “Beautification”

  “Update zoning. Initiate a “dress code” for businesses”

  “Uniform signage”

  “Increased and more consistent enforcement of parking and speeding / on foot presence”

  “Make the permitting process a bit easier”

  “Remove or replace the dead evergreen in the circle. Plant more trees”

  The Cliftondale Square area seems to get short shrift as to Town inclusion during the holidays, especially at Christmas.”

  “A promotional campaign (something inexpensive … on the town webpage maybe) with a weekly coupon sponsored by the businesses each taking turns. Something to get the residents to pop up the square, because if there isn’t anything appealing there, there’s no reason to head there.”

  “Repair damaged sidewalks. Consider using brick pavers for a more attractive look”

  “Permit public art and murals”

  “Incentivize pop-up markets, community events, open air performances…like Market Street”

Longer Term Improvements

  “Parking increased; larger scale retail additions, community events held in the square”

  “More walkable and pedestrian friendly – like a traditional main street environment. Give people a reason to go and to stay”

  “Allow 3/4 story housing. Maybe some nice condos with underground parking and that also have business storefronts. I think that would change and upgrade the whole area”

  “Get the ‘small town feel’ back”

  “Possibly some sort of green space for town events (e.g., 4th of July celebration).”

  “A place for residents to live and shop for most items without going to Route 1”

  “Make Cliftondale like Melrose or Wakefield’s downtowns”

  “A hub for Saugus that has a quaint but more refined feel. People can gather, shop in small boutiques, and get local drinks. Connect to nature and trails and more efficiently allow traffic to Rt. 1, school, and Lincoln Ave.”

  “Revise traffic patterns for less congestion, don’t overbuild, have a cohesive look, put utilities underground”

  Implement an accredited Main Street program with an active Chamber of Commerce and business community. A vibrant mixed-use community. New buildings should be adequately sized to host restaurant use with a viable front of house space”

Takeaways

  A diversity of opinions and ideas; the art of the compromise

  While there is a lot the town can do (apply for grants, create a zoning overlay, storefront program, consistent enforcement), stakeholders really hold the cards here, specifically in the mitigation of the number 1 issue in Cliftondale. A public / private partnership is required.

  Aside from parking, improved safety, walkability, and economic vibrancy are what most respondents want to see happen in Cliftondale.

  Like other communities, Saugus is experiencing a big generational divide in terms of what direction we should go in as a Town regarding the Cliftondale district.

  “Revitalization” means something different to everyone as it relates to Cliftondale. No matter what is implemented, there will be a sizable population that will oppose potential changes which may and has led to gridlock in the revitalization efforts. Compromise is necessary.

  Passive intervention (i.e., waiting for something to save Cliftondale) is not sustainable. Change is needed but change is something we historically challenged.

  Respondents were receptive of the Town financially investing in Cliftondale via storefront improvement program and purchasing property to aid the parking problem.

  Saugus’ geography and proximity to Boston (<10 miles) is going to result in an influx of new Saugonians in the coming years. We are likely to see substantial change in the makeup of our community in the next 15 years.

  We’d greatly benefit from an active Business & Property Owner Association that could facilitate discussions to better their district and their properties.

Next steps

  This survey will be on record (including raw responses not formatted for this presentation). This survey will be included as part of an overall report that is due November 1st.

  While the state has yet to announce awards for the Shared Streets and Spaces Grant, we will continue to monitor this opportunity.

  We will further synthesize these results along with the discussions had within this forum, compare them with the recommendations from the previously procured studies, and provide this information to the Town Manager, the Department of Planning & Economic Development, and the MAPC, the curator of our Master Plan.

  This committee will meet again at the end of summer and early fall to begin the preparation of our report. In the meantime, we will continue to gather information, consult with stakeholders and town officials, and stay up to date on any opportunities present in Cliftondale while also closing the perceived opportunities that are not present at this time.

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OFFERING SOME IDEAS: Retired architect/engineer Steve Rich offered his “Underpass Concept” during Monday (June 28) night’s Cliftondale Community Forum in the MEG Building. More than 30 people – including Cliftondale residents, merchants and property owners – were there to learn the results of a recent survey on Cliftondale Square Revitalization efforts and to offer their views. (Saugus Advocate photo by Mark E. Vogler

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