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Saranac Street charrette report arrives


November 20, 2012
LITTLETON — September's design charrette for Saranac Street was an intense two-day planning session on ways to improve the neighborhood. On Thursday, Plan NH, the organization that conducted the charrette, provided an 18-page report on the event.

The design team included experts from several fields. The report notes that Littleton's active community led Plan NH to see how residents could realize a new Saranac district.

The report stresses the importance of local input on community redevelopment. "Local knowledge is indispensable . . . to any community planning efforts," the report states.

The report places an estimated $16.8 million price tag on the recommendations. An additional $11 million in possible private investment is also discussed. Various possible grant funding could come from state and federal sources.

Marghie Seymour, Chairperson of the Board of Selectmen, mentioned the report at Thursday's Economic Development Celebration. She said that the design team "came up with some really fantastic ideas." She found the charrette process was "almost like giving a good writer a blank piece of paper."

The report found that several characteristics create "the unique character of the Saranac Street area." These include the proximity to downtown, the historical importance of the spot, and the immediate presence of the Ammonoosuc River.

There are five "overriding recommendations" in the report. The first is that Saranac Street should be seen as a unique district from Meadow Street to Cottage Street. Second, the town should "celebrate the river." This includes increasing views of and access to the Ammonoosuc.

Third, the town should not let Shoreline Protection Act questions halt redevelopment. Certain conditions lead to exemptions from the Act's limitations on river development.

Fourth, Saranac Street should be seen as a complement to Main Street, rather than a competitor. The report finds it important that Saranac planning should not detract from businesses along Main Street.

Finally, the report suggests that an overall plan be created that could help address funding concerns. Redevelopment can be done in phases over the years.

The design team looked in detail at parts of the Saranac neighborhood. When considering the intersection with Meadow Street, the report suggests realigning the intersection. Currently the streets meet at an odd angle. The new "gateway" area would create a right angle for the intersection that is slightly further west than the current layout. Traffic safety concerns were one reason this change was suggested.

Existing abutments could be used to create a new pedestrian bridge. This would expand the riverwalk on the western end of Saranac Street. Flow of pedestrian traffic in the entire area was a key point of discussion at the charrette.

A new building is part of the plan for the vacant spot next to the existing Tannery Marketplace. The report says that the building could have multiple uses, from offices, restaurants, and residential space. The existing housing across the street from the Tannery should be "retained, remodeled, and used as architectural models" for new housing in the area, according to the report.

Overlooks are seen as a way to create more river views. The report states, "The concept of linking pedestrian circulation from Main Street to the river was seen as an important aspect of the overall plan." Expansion of the river walk and creating better views to the Ammonoosuc from Main Street are other ways to celebrate the river, the report suggests.

Realigning Saranac and Mill Streets was significant part of the charrette weekend. The report says that this process would create better traffic flow, more parking, and a better link to Main Street.

"The traffic patterns here," the report states, "are complicated by a substantial grade change from Main Street towards the river." The report finds the parking disorganized, which is inefficient. Improvements could bring more vitality to Mill Street, the report finds.

Ray Cloutier, who owns the Tannery Marketplace, looks forward to development of a community consensus from the charrette. "Now is the time that the real work begins," Cloutier said.

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