BERLIN – Twenty-three percent of Berlin households weighed in on the future of the town during a survey on the comprehensive plan, demographics and what the town has to offer residents.
“For a municipality, that’s a very good response rate,” said Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward. “You’d normally expect to see in the 10 to 15 percent range.”
“To my knowledge it’s the first time the town has done anything like this,” Mayor Gee Williams said.
Half the questions were meant to illuminate future plans for the town of Berlin as expressed in the new comprehensive plan, still being written, while half came from the Berlin Mayor and Council and concerned satisfaction rates, reasons people moved to Berlin, and what products and services they use in town, among other topics.
“You can’t take everything literally but you can use these as a guide in establishing priorities or bringing some things to the forefront,” said Williams.
The comprehensive plan questions were aimed in particular at municipal growth decisions, which will be revised based on the survey results.
One notable result was the amount of respondents, 41 percent, who wished for a minimum of sprawl. Responders also strongly supported creating more sidewalks or walking paths (36 percent), preserving open space and farmland (34 percent), and adding more parks and recreational opportunities (30 percent).
Adding more mixed residential and commercial uses in downtown Berlin also received support (29 percent), as did the promotion of commercial development (25 percent).
Over half, 52 percent, of respondents said no to whether Berlin should expand the town limits for future development. However, 43 percent said yes to that question.
A third of responders, 33 percent, favor residential and commercial growth as being in the best interest of Berlin, while 24 percent were neutral, 17 percent were opposed, 16 percent strongly favored that growth, and 9 percent strongly opposed it.
The survey indicates that Berlin residents would prefer to see mixed-use development, followed by commercial and residential.
As for residential growth, over a third of residents (36 percent) surveyed feel that 10 or less homes per year is a reasonable rate of development, with 25 percent indicating between 11 and 25 homes would be fine. Sixteen percent opted for 25 to 50 homes annually, while just 5 percent felt 51 to 100 homes each year would be reasonable, and 1 percent supported 101 to 150 homes each year.
About 83 percent of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that Berlin needs more restaurants, entertainment or retail businesses. Eighty-one percent agreed or strongly agreed that the town needs more affordable restaurants and activities downtown as well.
Seventy-two percent agreed or strongly agreed that the town should be more pedestrian friendly. Respondents also favored, by a total of 71 percent, more public open space and private landscaping for aesthetic improvements.
Sixty percent of those surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed that the town should create an indoor youth recreation facility. Fifty percent of survey takers also either agreed or strongly agreed that the town should pair the farmer’s market with an arts and entertainment market.
The arts and entertainment community received strong support, with 68 percent of survey takers responding positively.
Citizens also favored increased open hours for downtown businesses, with 53 percent supporting businesses open after 6 p.m.
Promoting environmental stewardship, with a leadership role for the town, and encouraging residents to engage in environmentally-responsible practices received support from 77 percent of responders.
The town, according to 78 percent of survey takers, should support preservation of Berlin’s historic legacy. Architectural standards for homes and businesses, based on specific neighborhoods, to maintain town character received 63 percent support in the survey.
Sixty-one percent of responders also want to see the town of Berlin support workforce housing, and 66 percent would like to see the town support development of senior housing. Seventy percent said they would like to see the town encourage development of living space above commercial spaces downtown.
Berlin will do more surveys in the future to check in with residents on their priorities and concerns, said Williams. Town residents can also weigh in on a parks commission survey, which arrived with the town’s newsletter in town mailboxes this week.