Item Photo By OWEN O’ROURKE
Economic Development Officer Bob Luongo looks over plans at Saugus Town Hall.
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — Since its rezoning in May, the town has adopted a new process for potential Route One Developments that is proving beneficial for both the town and developers, said Economic Development Officer Robert Luongo.
“The zoning has generated a lot of interest from developers,” said Luongo. “I’ve seen more interest since May than I had seen in the almost two years prior to that I was with the town.”
Most recently, a New Hampshire-based restaurant looking to open a second location expressed interest in the site of the former Hilltop Steak House property through a posting on social media, generating excitement in Saugus.
Tuckaway Tavern and Butchery, located in Raymond, N.H., posted two photos of the site and the iconic neon cactus on it’s Instagram and Facebook pages with the caption “Breaking Some Ground on Some Groundbreaking News.”
“We just finished our franchising documents and plan to make a strong push at that being our prime target to launch our second location,” said Bobby Marcotte, General Manager and Executive Chef of the restaurant. “Nothing is official yet but we can go on record to say that there is no place we would rather pay homage to with our concept.”
“The site is obviously of major interest just because of the history behind the Hilltop being an icon, but, if not there, Route One is most certainly a major point of interest,” Marcotte said. “We have feelers out to the property owners but not the town as of now.”
However, town officials say they have not been made aware of a proposal from the restaurant.
“They have not talked to the (property) owner or the town,” said Luongo. “If they’re interested in it, they’re not talking to anyone in the town about it.”
Luongo said the process for proposing a development on Route One typically begins with a visit to his office.
“When developers propose something for Route One they come in and meet with me and we talk to the building inspector as well,” he said. “We determine if the development is allowed under zoning.”
A meeting is then set up with the Town Manager. The Town Manager sets up an internal meeting with the town’s department heads, he said.
“They talk about any issues the departments might have with (the proposal),” Luongo said. “It’s good for the department heads to hear in general terms what is being proposed.”
The developer next meets with the Economic Development Committee.
“The purpose of the committee is to try to help the town attract good quality developments,” he said. “(We) invite the public to attend that meeting and hear what developers are proposing to do.”
At the meeting, the developer will answer general questions about the proposal, he said.
“The next step is for the developer to file a master plan with the Planning Board,” Luongo said.
The master plan outlines what the development would look like. At the meeting, the board talks in general terms about the design of the building and other factors such as traffic and sewer impacts. The plan is either approved or the board makes recommendations for design changes, Luongo said.
Once a master plan is approved, the developer needs to come back to the Planning Board to amend the plan should they want to make changes to it. At this stage, developers could file for site-plan review or meet with the Board of Selectmen for necessary permits, he said.
“The idea under this new zoning was to make sure any development was transparent,” Luongo said. “The town can see what developers are planning and offer input. It’s beneficial to both the town and the developer.”
The first developments to go through this process are the Essex Landing development planned for the site of Route One Mini Golf and adjacent properties and WoodSpring Suites development, which is proposed to take the place of Cap World.
“With Essex Landing we encouraged them to create a mixed-use development,” he said. “They were very receptive. It made sense from an economic standpoint for them because they can do a lot of creative things there.
“By us engaging (with) them, I think they saw more opportunity,” he said.
Similarly, the WoodSpring Suites Extended-Stay Hotel developers have been met with concerns of neighbors, he said.
“They convened a private meeting with the residents of the mobile home park located behind (the property) and got a lot of good feedback,” Luongo said.
Developers for the project will come before the Planning Board with a master plan at Thursday’s meeting.
“I think Saugus has gone a little bit beyond in engaging with the developer throughout the entire process,” Luongo said. “Sometimes town planners act as a regulatory agency. What we’ve done with zoning, the town engages with the developer.
“So far I think it’s working well,” he said. “I think this process will result in a good outcome that the town can be proud of. We’re looking at a new Route One in a way.”
Luongo said he has spoken to five or six different people who are interested in properties on Route One.
“Whether (or not) these (potential developments) will pan out, I don’t know. But there’s interest,” he said.