WINCHESTER — A recent online survey and a series of public input sessions on the city’s Comprehensive Plan revealed widespread disagreement about what residents want Winchester to become.
Winchester’s Planning and Zoning Department has been soliciting public input since late May in preparation for updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which outlines Winchester’s development, infrastructure and residential goals, and is revised every few years to address current trends and desires.
Planning Director Timothy Youmans said the city collected a substantial amount of feedback over the past three months.
“We were very pleased with both the input sessions and the online survey,” he said Tuesday at a meeting of the Winchester Planning Commission.
Turnout was relatively low for the four public input sessions, Youmans said, but a total of 680 people answered at least some of the questions in the online survey, “Shape Winchester,” before it closed Aug. 10.
The diversity of opinions shared online and in person made it clear that no two people agree on the best course for Winchester’s future.
For example, when survey participants were asked where they would support the construction of buildings that exceed the city’s current maximum height of 75 feet, the top answer was “Nowhere.” The second most popular answer from the 348 people who replied to the question was “Anywhere/Everywhere.”
A similar situation occurred when people were asked where they would support increased population density. The No. 1 response from 339 participants was “South,” meaning southern Winchester, but that was followed closely by the second most popular response, “Nowhere.”
Further division arose when people were asked to write a sentence or two about what they want Winchester to look like in 20 years.
“Some folks wrote an entire essay,” Youmans said.
Planning and Zoning staff boiled down the answers to several recurring themes, such as preserving the community’s character or attracting more businesses. Eighty people said they supported keeping Winchester just the same as it is now, while 64 said the city needs more growth and urbanization.
There were other questions that were met with almost universal agreement. An example was, “What do you like most about Winchester?” with the clear winners being Old Town and the city’s character and quality of life.
The Amherst Street and Berryville Avenue entrance corridors into Winchester also united respondents. Berryville Avenue was deemed unattractive and congested, Youmans said, while people “overwhelmingly” praised the appearance and functionality of Amherst Street.
Another part of Winchester elicited a great deal of disdain.
“No surprise to anybody, the most common response was, ‘Do something with Ward Plaza,’” Youmans said.
Comments collected during the public input sessions have not been fully categorized, Youmans said, but participants echoed many of the statements shared by their neighbors in the online survey. Those included better access to grocery stores, more affordable housing opportunities, continued preservation of Winchester’s history and the development of underutilized properties.
In the coming months, Youmans said, city officials will consider the information while working on a draft revision to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. A public hearing to solicit feedback on the changes will be held in October or November, and the updated plan is expected to be formally adopted by City Council in April.
Attending Tuesday’s Winchester Planning Commission meeting in Rouss City Hall were Chairman Mark Loring, Vice Chairman John Tagnesi and members Brandon Pifer, Leesa Mayfield, David Ray and Katt Eaton. Commissioner Lacey Burnett was absent.