A neighborhood that was once an ugly mark on Clifton's surface has been recognized for its transformation from dumping yard to dream homes.
Frog Hill, a group of 11, single-family homes on Water Street just outside the town limits, was recently named one of seven winners of the Community Appearance Alliance Award.
"I had lived in Clifton since 1976 and had been there 20 years when I started the application process for project," said Jim Franca, a lawyer-turned-developer who was responsible for the community.
At first, Franca said, Clifton residents expressed some concern about what the homes would look like and if they would be in keeping with existing homes inside the Historic District.
"People were concerned about how it would affect town, not only physically but how it would look," Franca said.
Working closely with Chip Paciulli from RJL Associates, Franca was able to design homes that maintained the look of the community while resolving storm water problems that existed when the site was little more than a dumping ground, filled with old cars.
THE PROCESS of obtaining the approval from various committees in Clifton was strenuous and stressful on his wife, Franca said, but he was confident the plans would be approved.
"It was difficult ... because the people opposed to the project were long-time acquaintances and friends," he said. "I knew it would be OK when it was done and that the town would be proud of it, but my wife knew it was my dream and my vision."
In the eight years since the homes were completed, nearly everyone who spoke out against the development have congratulated Franca on a job well done.
Clifton Town Councilmember Mike Anton didn't know he was moving into a controversial community when he and his family bought a house in Frog Hill a few years ago.
"We were driving around and happened to know this place was on the market," Anton said. "It was one of the snowiest days of the year, and as we were coming up the hill, all the folks from the neighborhood were all out sledding. That's the kind of feeling we wanted, to have our kids feel sense of neighborhood."
By being elected to the Council last fall, Anton believes Frog Hill has been fully accepted as part of the community.
"A lot of us felt like outsiders because the development was very controversial at first," he said. "One by one, everyone's accepted us as part of town."
A Homeowner's Association has provided a set of rigorous rules and regulations that must be adhered to, which maintains a pleasant appearance, Anton said.
"We adhere to all same types of materials, the look and feel of homes inside the town," he said. "We have a group that goes to each house to look and see if anything needs to be repaired in light of the code."
Rosemary Byrne, vice president for the Community Appearance Alliance for the awards program, said Frog Hill was selected for the transformation it achieved.
"We essentially sit around and talk about things we've seen, places we've been that are remarkable for the changes they've seen," Byrne said.
Former mayor Jim Chesley brought the community to the Alliance's attention, she said, praising the neighborhood's integration with the town's codes.
Tom Peterson, the current mayor of Clifton, said the award is a nice addition to the town's resume.
"There are quality people up there and it turns out the development was very good for the town," he said. "With Mike's election, it shows that Frog Hill people have really become involved in the community and have been accepted."
As for the name of the community?
"I think it's because when it rains, frogs come out and latch onto windows," Anton speculated.
Actually, Franca said, the name comes from a nickname he had when he used to drive a big green truck with large headlights.
"The name just stuck," said Franca, laughing. "When we built our house up here, we jokingly called it Frog Hill. Then we started the paperwork for the development and kept the name, but I never thought the town would go for it."
Coincidentally, Franca adds, the property does have an abundance of frogs and toads.