Editorial: Saugus showing give and take on Route 1

Score one for Saugus town officials who are willing to demonstrate that applying a light touch when it comes to Route 1’s development transformation pays dividends.

The decline and fall of Sears could be bad news on the town’s main commercial thoroughfare and especially the Square One Mall, but that appears to not be the case. Town planners are clearing the way for four commercial storefronts in the mall to occupy the Sears Automotive space.

One of the prospective new tenants is LongHorn Steakhouse, a well-known restaurant chain that is sure to bring diners to Route 1 and the mall.

When Route 1 slowly but surely started losing the last of its gaudy signs and seedy motels, town officials acted promptly to review proposals for new construction on the highway and worked with developers on their plans. As a result, the Essex Landing project is rising on the site where the orange dinosaur once roamed and will still delight drivers once the project is finished.

The Hilltop Steakhouse is also a development site but its signature sign will continue to loom over Route 1 and mark the gateway to the AvalonBay development complex.

AvalonBay and Essex Landing are examples of how Saugus officials did it the right way when it came to working with developers. They set parameters for the two big projects, but they didn’t bring a “our-way-or-the-highway” to the table.

To their credit, town officials also embraced the reality of Route 1 as a commercial zone in transition with businesses and attractions dating back a half century, even longer, inevitably going the way of cigarette machines and leaded gas.

It’s easy to imagine developers assessing the Sears Automotive site and weighing the pros and cons of doing business in Saugus before concluding they can work in an expedited, relatively hassle-free manner with the town.

Saugus planners referred in talks with the Sears developers to a 2015 zoning ordinance specifying requirements for appearance and other construction details. The discussions ended with town officials and developers finding common ground on how the four storefronts will be designed.

That approach to compromise is serving Saugus well and the benefits from an even-handed approach include a steady stream of commercial property tax revenue for many years to come.

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