HIGHLANDS - The results of the recent survey designed to give local planners some insight into ideas for possible redevelopment of most of Bay Avenue have been compiled and are available to see on the borough website, The responses come from 477 residents, business owners and visitors represent, not surprisingly, a broad range of ideas, suggestions, criticisms and new ideas.
Kudos are due Mayor Carolyn Broullon for instituting the survey and sending an open invitation to all to express their opinions. Praise also is due to information release that affords all the opportunity to see a fair an open appraisal of all opinions and statements by the complete release of all comments, both favorable and in opposition to adjectives describing the borough today and opinions of how it would look in a decade should planned redevelopment go through.
According to the report, the biggest takeaways are the things that make Highlands unique and supportive of a downtown revitalization are the Shrewsbury River and the downtowns relationship to it, the types of businesses in the downtown area, the borough’s history and Its relationship with and proximity to the Twin Lights, described in the survey as a national monument rather than the national historic site it is.
Respondents by a broad margin said food specialty and grocery stores would be the primary reason they would spend at least $20 downtown Highlands, while another broad percentage of respondents also said they would support apartments constructed over a first floor commercial use but limit height to three story construction, figures almost double the next top responses.
The survey was conducted by Tabulations Team at Gazelle Global Research Services, LLC at no cost to the borough. Questions were generated from other redevelopment questionnaires previously used throughout the state and consisted of ten questions made available since October both on paper and through a variety of media connections, including a postcard campaign to encourage as much response as possible.
Responses also indicate, that based on a local population of 4,621 residents the number of responses presents a true proportion of the entire population.
Surprisingly only 2.7 percent of businesspersons in the business district responded to the survey, and only 2.3 per cent of local businesspersons outside the business district responded. Only 6.7 percent of all the owners of properties within the district responded, while another 22.9 per cent of owners of businesses outside the area responded..
In response to another question on the survey, approximately one in every five who responded found the downtown areas friendly and quiet, while an equal percentage found it boring and deserted.
Eight-one respondents think the borough’s downtown area is eclectic and charming, and almost as many also found it historic. Fewer than one percent of those who responded found it terrifying, stressful, bristling or exciting.
Projecting ten years in the future, with a well-designed and rejuvenated business district, 67 percent of those who responded thought the borough would be welcoming with more than half also describing it as vibrant. Only 37.5 percent of respondents would describe it as unique, and 30 percent would deem it comfortable. Still, the vast majority of respondents think the downtown area would be a great place for food, having a drink, meeting friends, walking, biking, and shopping.
There was a broad response to the open-ended question at the end of the survey, inviting comments and opinions that are interesting, thought provoking, and include a broad variety of opinions all available to be seen on the survey. Included among these are a concern that flooding is not addressed as an issue, residential problems are not addressed while developers are, land within the development area remains undeveloped. Some respondents said , no more bars, more diverse restaurants.
One person opined the best ideas about Highlands, are “it's eclectic, diverse, with a rich history and a friendly, small coastal town vibe. There's a fine line when it comes to planning for redevelopment that encourages economic growth while honoring the "salty" eclectic, diverse and small town, family friendly quality of where Highlands is at this point. “ Another said “as much as Highlands is its history and its proximity to so many attractions, it's the people who make it different (in a good way). “
“I am afraid what will happen is developers will come in, build buildings with store fronts that will fail and that Highlands will become a rental town that will destroy it. …a scenario very likely but most likely probable.”
Another comment is “ would like to see an increased cultural presence…need vibrant business but … avoid chain stores and restaurants downtown.”
Needs expressed by respondents include small businesses that would allow Highlands to remain a unique, fix sidewalks and roads, throughout, not just downtown, diverse retail, enforced regulations that require residential and commercial property to look nice, capitalize on the national park and the ferry people, new service-based businesses including dry cleaning, a butcher or French market., clean up Bay Avenue and recruit to fill vacant spots, push businesses to finish projects, a barber shop and a hardware store, remake this unique waterfront community, promote the unique location as a hub for technology, healthy food stores, yoga, music, school performances, bike shops, consider offering tax abatements to businesses, and many more ideas.
See the full Survey with all the response on the borough web page or on several Facebook group sites.