SANBORNTON — A recent effort to get opinions from townspeople about economic development activity indicates significant support for more commercial development, the Planning Board is reporting.
In a statement released Thursday, the board said a questionnaire handed out to local voters at this past March's Town Meeting showed, "Sanbornton residents favor allowing more commercial development in town, on a selective basis, which is compatible with Sanbornton's small-town rural character."
Bob Ward, Sanbornton town planner and zoning administrator, said that 92 residents responded to the so-called Community Development Survey, too few for the results to be considered a statistically accurate measure of public opinion.
Those who responded supported commercial development by a 4-to-1 margin "as long as local land-use controls were effectively applied, as long as the commercial development was rural in character and as long as the appropriate location was proposed." They felt commercial development, including light industry, would help the town's property tax base. However, the respondents were strongly opposed to allowing heavy industry or big-box shopping centers in town.
Ward said the latest questionnaire showed a significant shift in opinion compared to 2008 when a mail survey was conducted. At that time survey results showed townspeople were basically neutral toward the idea of having light industry in town. On a 5-point scale, with 5.0 being the highest favorability score, light industry received a score of 2.92.
"At that time the economy was still pretty strong, and property values were still rising," said Ward. "Many are now worried, and that changes economic perspectives. What really stands out now there is a strong preference for light industry that wasn't there in 2008."
The only type of commercial development that received stronger support in the latest poll was resorts, Ward noted.
The board is planning to hold a public information session to discuss economic development sometime in June. At that time the board also plans to give detailed and tabulated results from the questionnaire. The board is expected to set a date for that information session when it meets next Thursday, Ward said.
Ward said town officials are putting economic development on a "fast track".
He said that selectmen have appointed an economic development advisory council. He said the hope is the 17-member group will come up with short- and medium-term proposals for economic development along with recommendations for funding.
Ward noted that another focus of the questionnaire — senior housing — showed strong support for development of senior housing for older Sanbornton residents, again as long as those developments were small scale and appropriately located.
But Ward noted making progress in the area of economic development was stronger priority than senior housing at this time.
"Towns can do a lot to encourage economic development," Ward explained. "But as far as senior housing is concerned that is not in the authority of small towns (to carry out). You won't see the town taking direct action to create senior housing. But towns like Sanbornton can take action to create and promote a good business climate."
The questionnaire also showed significant support for other types of businesses such as hospitality-type businesses such as resorts, country inns, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and retail shops.
Many also said the town should encourage agriculture and agriculturally-based businesses. Likewise, forestry and wood products-based businesses were both broadly supported.
The detailed, tabulated results of the questionnaire will be reviewed and distributed at a June public information meeting and will be available in hard copy form at the town office following the public information meeting.
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