Highlands Comprehensive Plan survey still ‘hot’

If you want a ‘say’ in the future of Highlands, fill it out

Since the state requires municipalities with zoning to have a Comprehensive Plan and to update their Unified Development Ordinance by July 1, 2022, over the past couple months the town has been working on fulfilling that requirement.

A few months back, the town hired Stewart, Inc., to oversee the process of putting a comprehensive plan for Highlands together. The project entails incorporating plans already in place as well as eliciting input from stakeholders in the community as well as citizens.

For several weeks now, everyone has been encouraged to fill out the Highlands Community Plan survey HERE.

“The plan is not meant to be regulatory; it is a policy document so it doesn’t change zoning, or ordinances, or laws, but it can inform regulatory changes,” said Stewart’s Project Manager Jake Petrosky. “In the end, we might make recommendations to the town and suggest looking at some ordinances or zoning regulations; perhaps make some adjustments to be more in line with the overall vision.”

That vision is coming directly from survey results as well as discussions with stakeholders and citizens.

As of Dec. 11, there have been 849 responses to the Highlands Community Plan survey, which according to Town Manager Josh Ward “is a pretty good response.”

Surveys will be accepted through early January. 

Petrosky said he and his staff are processing survey results received thus far, but there are some themes that will likely remain even if quite a few more surveys are received.  

“Some of those themes and key findings that people value about Highlands are the importance of a sense of community, small town character, and natural beauty; but environmental preservation is a leading concern of respondents by a good margin,” he said. “Additional concerns include infrastructure (water, sewer, internet), maintaining a vibrant downtown, controlling short-term rentals and historic preservation.”

The survey includes a number of questions about development and housing preferences, downtown priorities, transportation issues and recreation needs, but Petrosky said they are still analyzing those results.

The makeup of the respondents to the survey thus far span the spectrum. 

So far, there is an even amount of year-round residents and part-time residents (45% and 46% respectively). There is also a good amount of respondents who work in town (12%) and others that own property or are frequent or long-term tourists. 

“The majority of responses are from folks over 55,” he said. “If there was one demographic we needed to hear more from it’s folks under age 44 who live or work in Highlands.”

Once the survey process is over, the results will be summarized and analyzed by the Stewart staff and the consultant team.  Findings from the survey will be presented to the Highlands Community Plan Steering Committee at its meeting scheduled for January 13th. 

“The results will directly impact the content of the Community Plan,” said Petrosky. “The answers to the open-ended questions will help to shape the vision and goals in the plan. The more specific feedback related to land use preferences, downtown priorities and transportation and recreation needs will influence the content of the policies and recommendations in the plan. It is likely that the plan will spend more time on topics that are a big concern for folks based on survey results.”

The next step will be to develop options on how the town can address some of the big concerns, priorities and preferences from the survey.  There will be more opportunity for public review and comment on draft recommendations in the spring.   

Though as of July 2019 comprehensive plans are required by law for municipalities to have zoning regulations, it’s not something that has to be enacted, though the hope is it will be and according to Town Manager Josh Ward the development of the Highlands Community Plan is very important for the future of Highlands.  

“The comprehensive plan will serve as the guide for all future decisions pertaining to each aspect of the Town of Highlands for the next 10 to 20 years. The preservation of the character of Highlands as well as the direction of growth, redevelopment and services provided will be described within the document” he said.  

Petrosky said this comprehensive plan exercise is a whole lot more involved than just checking a box required by the state.

“Ideally the comprehensive plan, or the Highlands Community Plan as we are calling it, can be a strategic plan for the town,” he said. “It can document a community conversation starting this year and provide recommendations and short-term and long-term things that the town and its public and private sector partners can do to address the most pressing needs and improve the quality of life for town residents and other stakeholders.”

To fill out the relatively short, easy to navigate survey click HERE.  

Pictured at the top of the article is downtown Highlands from the Hudson Library.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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