A Bright View for Wakefield’s Future?

21Mar14

It depends on who you askhiker_snow10

Downtown Wakefield is changing, in case you haven’t noticed or have been hibernating under a rock somewhere for the last few months, in which case you could hardly be blamed given the winter that thankfully officially ended at 12:57 p.m. on March 20.

In any case, the downtown area is changing, which is nothing new, really. There used to be parking spaces in the middle of Main Street. I’m frankly a little surprised that that idea hasn’t been floated to solve the downtown parking problem.

There also were once trolley tracks in the center of Main Street. Maybe returning to that would cut down on the number of cars trying to park in the square.

Businesses come and businesses go and nail salons move in. As long as they pay their rent and taxes, why should anyone really care?

cvs_oldThe latest big wave of change began in late 2011, when CVS announced that it was vacating its former location at 376 Main St. to build a shiny new store a few blocks down the street. That move left a big retail space open in the heart of the square.

The following May, the 2012 Annual Town Meeting passed Article 28 by a vote of 101-33, creating an Assisted Living Overlay District between Main and Crescent streets.

parking_garage_itemThen, last August, came the big front-page news that Brightview Senior Living wanted to build an assisted living facility behind the Cooperative Bank, stretching all the way back to Crescent Street on property purchased from the Fraen Corporation.

Their original plan for a 90-unit facility was expanded when town officials approached Brightview about the idea of taking an adjacent $18,000 square foot parcel of town-owned land in exchange for agreeing to build a parking garage as part of a larger, 140-unit project and guaranteeing a certain number of parking spaces in the garage for public use.

On January 28, 2014, zoning articles related to the assisted living/garage project were the subject of Planning Board public hearings, which the public did not see fit to attend.

The following week, after three hours of deliberation, Special Town Meeting voters approved by a 2/3 majority those same articles that would allow the downtown parking garage to be built in conjunction with an assisted living facility.

The end? Not quite.

A group of citizens opposed to the garage plan took advantage of a Town Charter provision and collected sufficient signatures to force a Special Election on the garage for April Fools’ Day, Tuesday, April 1.

Meanwhile, back in December, the still vacant old CVS building was sold to a new owner. That led to rampant speculation about what “should” go in that space by everybody who didn’t just pay $1.6 million for the property.

family_dollarPersistent rumors that a “Dollar Store” would be going into the old CVS block sparked indignation from locals who disdain such establishments as more in keeping with the nearby City of Sin and beneath the upscale ambitions of their own community.

If it’s any consolation, you can rest assured that under the new sign bylaw your Dollar Store will have a tasteful wood-carved, bracket-mounted sign, illuminated by external goose-neck lighting.

And for those of you who actually like buying things for a dollar, I know of a piece of land on Main Street that you might be interested in.

[This column originally appeared in the March 20, 2014 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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