Survey finds Stonington residents want better schools, more open space

Stonington - A survey of 739 people who responded to a recent questionnaire about what they would like to see in the upcoming revision of the town's Plan of Conservation and Development yielded many of the expected answers along with a few surprises.

According to an executive summary of the survey, the top priority for residents is improving the school system. And while they would like to attract new businesses, grow the tax base and keep taxes low, they want to preserve the town's quality of life and natural resources, add open space and create things such as walking and bicycling trails, parks and playgrounds.

They also want to see areas of town such as the mills along Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck rehabilitated. They would like to see developers reuse existing buildings and fill vacant ones.

One surprise is that while town officials often talk about the need for more affordable housing, especially for seniors, adding affordable housing was ranked last among the respondents' priorities. They also do not want more single- and multi-family housing units.

Also surprising is that in a town where officials worry whether taxpayers will approve the annual budget or bonding for large projects, residents said they want the town to invest in education, infrastructure and open space. In addition, the majority of them indicated they would be willing to vote for a tax increase or town bonding for such projects.

That comes as good news for the K-12 School Building Committee, which is putting together a plan to renovate and expand the town's elementary schools.

The responses come from the summary of a questionnaire developed by the Plan of Conservation and Development Subcommittee and were submitted through March 20. The town has also created a Town of Stonington 2014 Plan of Conservation & Development page on Facebook.

The responses will help guide the subcommittee as it develops the update with input from boards and commissions, outside agencies and consultants.

State law requires municipalities to update and approve their plans of conversation and development every 10 years. The Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to complete and approve the revised plan next year.

The plan is a guide for how the town wants to develop over the next 10 to 20 years and covers areas such as land use, housing and economic development.

The plan is designed to guide the decisions of town boards and commissions. The PZC is also responsible for implementing the plan's recommendations with help from other boards and commissions.

One of the survey respondents' biggest concerns was the town's long-term ability to attract new residents and businesses. They also want to see support for small businesses and are concerned about overdevelopment and commercial sprawl.

The vast majority also supported streamlining the often cumbersome permitting process for projects and want to see a comprehensive update of zoning regulations.

Although most respondents would like to see more agriculture in town, its protection and enhancement was not a high priority.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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