CLAREMONT — In the coming months, Claremont residents will have the opportunity to help shape plans for a river walk or waterfront park on the Sugar River, the city announced this week.
Credere Associates, a New England environmental engineering group, has partnered with the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission to complete a brownfield assessment of the old Sullivan Machine site. Included in this funding, Credere will also create two concepts for a river walk or park, which will become available for public viewing this fall. The project is funded through an environmental assessment grant acquired by the Regional Planning Commission.
“Hopefully this will be a very important first step to seeing some of the major improvements along that riverfront, which as we all know is a beautiful attribute for this community and underutilized at this point in time,” interim city manager John MacLean told the City Council on Wednesday. “So it could have some significant impact on the future well-being of our community.”
In an interview, city Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill said that the city now owns all the riverfront parcels along the north bank of the river from Puksta Bridge to Union Street Bridge, making this the perfect time for the community to discuss what it would like to develop there.
Merrill said she hopes to schedule a community charrette next spring, bringing together residents, city boards and commissions, and invested community members to develop a cohesive vision for the riverfront.
“A charrette is a very intensive process, maybe involving an evening session and the following day,” Merrill said. “You want to get as many people involved as possible, walking along the property and talking about ideas. It’s the best way to get a collective idea of what the community wants to do.”
The possibilities for this land are vast, Merrill said. The community might consider selling parcels for commercial use, or keeping some publicly owned. The land could be developed for anything from housing to public recreation to tourism attraction. Conversation with planning, zoning and development members might entail what ordinances to review for alignment with the community plan.
Developing the riverfront has been a city goal for several years. The city sought money for a river walk in 2006 through a Department of Transportation grant, but the plan was not detailed enough at the time for approval. Last year, the city completed the environmental cleanup of the Old Gasworks site, which took a process of five or six years to complete.
The Sullivan Machine site has become unsafe. Once a smokestack of the Joy Manufacturing factory, the property attracts a variety of trespassers, including graffiti artists who have transformed its walls into a mural. But in addition to crumbling brick, the ground beneath the structure is now so unstable the structure itself has become “wobbly,” Merrill said.
In recent council meetings, Councilor Nick Koloski has raised his concern about the structure’s safety and the city’s liability should someone get hurt.
Merrill said the entire planning process, including approval of a charrette, must go through the city council, though the council is already familiar with the project through previous discussions. Approval of a brownfield assessment for the Sullivan site must also go through the state Department of Environmental Services, which Merrill expects to only be a formality.
Merrill decided to delay the charrette until spring when the weather will be warmer, to encourage a larger resident turnout.