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Opportunity knocks for Cliftondale

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Monday’s Special Town Meeting will consider articles that will enable town to buy a vacant bank building and property for the site of a future parking lot

  A vacant bank building and the quarter acre lot it sets on provides an opportunity for the town to develop a municipal parking lot in Cliftondale, according to Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree.

  “I’m going to support this at Town Meeting,” Crabtree told the Finance Committee Wednesday night (April 27) of two articles he has introduced that would address the lack of accessible parking – which is considered a major barrier to the revitalization of Cliftondale Square.

  Article 11 would authorize the Board of Selectmen to acquire title to the land and building located at 481-483 Lincoln Ave. Article 12 requests the appropriation of $775,000 to buy the property. These two measures are among 13 warrant articles to be considered at Monday’s (May 2) Special Town Meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. in the second floor auditorium at Saugus Town Hall. Finance Committee members voted overwhelmingly to recommend passage of Articles 11 and 12 during their Wednesday night meeting.

  “If the town is serious about revitalizing that area, then I feel this is a good fit,” Finance Committee Chair Kenneth DePatto said.

  “I feel strongly that this is in the best interests of the town,” DePatto said.

One “no” vote

  Veteran Finance Committee Member Ronald “Rocky” Jessup voted against it, expressing concerns over the increased burden on Saugus taxpayers. “Three years ago, I would have made the motion [to support it] … Three years ago, I would have been all over it,” Jessup said.

  In explaining his reason for introducing the two articles, Crabtree stressed that the revitalization of Cliftondale Square has become a top priority for town officials. The town manager noted that selectmen and Town Meeting members “have been vocal” about future economic development in the area. He cited the Town Meeting’s creation last year of the Cliftondale Revitalization Committee to study the causes and potential responses to economic trends in the Cliftondale area as an example of that commitment. “As part of the 2022 Master Plan update, Cliftondale was also identified as a top economic development concern and a priority area for public investment and incentives,” said a document that Crabtree presented to the Finance Committee.

  “The studies identified a primary cause of decline in the commercial sustainability in Cliftondale as a lack of accessible parking in proximity to destinations,” the document stated. “Without available parking many potential patrons of local establishments do not stop in the area for service or products. The conclusions of the studies consistently pointed to the public acquisition of property to allow for expansion of accessible public parking.”

  North Shore Bank decided to list the property earlier this year, and the Town of Saugus decided to put in an offer, which is contingent upon the passage of the town articles, according to Crabtree.

  Finance Committee Member Theresa Katsos expressed concerns that there would be more costs associated with the property than just the purchase. “There’s going to be a cost to tearing it down,” Katsos said.

  “You don’t know if there’s asbestos in the building,” she said.

  Crabtree said the focus of the articles is to acquire the property. “There are different options and a host of different funding sources as well,” he said.

Uniqueness of property

  The document Crabtree presented to the Finance Committee cited “the uniqueness of 481-483 Lincoln Avenue as a suitable property to meet the documented need to provide more public parking in Cliftondale.” It listed these reasons:

  • Few properties become available for sale in this area. This property is at once vacant, available, commercial and accessible on the main road.
  • The unique lot shape and configuration allow several essential elements for the construction of a public parking lot. The frontage is wide enough to provide adequate and safe two-way access and turning radii on a main road, and the lot is sufficient in width to allow for necessary 24-foot minimum drive aisles and standard parking stalls.
  • The property has two means of access to different public ways, which allows for public safety equipment to service the site adequately.
  • The lot is flat and conducive to cost-effective stormwater drainage and snow storage so that the lot can be efficiently and cost-effectively maintained to remain available to the public on a year-round basis.
  • The lot is close to the MBTA bus stop and important walkable, high-demand facilities in Cliftondale, such as the Post Office and Church, making it a unique opportunity to expand safe pedestrian accessibility in a priority location.
  • The structure in the lot is of no historic value, unlike many properties in Cliftondale, so demolition for parking would not incur any loss of intrinsic value.
  • The property is legal nonconforming for the purposes of zoning, and commercial reuse or redevelopment of the property is limited, due to the most recent use as a former loan center. Potential change of use to more sustainable businesses would likely require more parking than the current parking and structure could accommodate.

  “There are no other similar lots that meet all of these minimum documented needs for public parking in Cliftondale,” the document states. “The Town therefore makes this Determination of Uniqueness for 481-483 Lincoln Avenue in the hope that this rare and fleeting opportunity to acquire land for a documented and beneficial public purpose in Cliftondale can be achieved.”

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