This article has been updated to correct the number of responses given to questions about housing density and taller buildings.
WINCHESTER — As the city prepares to hold a series of public input sessions on its forthcoming Comprehensive Plan update, several hundred people have already shared their thoughts on development, infrastructure and residential goals they want Winchester to pursue in the next five years and beyond.
An online survey, “Shape Winchester,” has been collecting opinions since late May from people who live and work in the city. Last week, representatives from the Winchester Planning Department provided an overview of the 391 responses received at that point.
Planning Director Timothy Youmans said the survey has drawn a good age mix of people 25 to 74, with 74% of them living in the city and 41% working here. Of those who already live in Winchester, 84% said they plan to remain for at least another five years and 40% said this is where they’ll retire.
“Great Neighborhoods/Housing” received the highest rank in the survey for attributes that make Winchester a desirable place to live. “Quality Schools” and “Access to Health Care” rounded out the top three, while “Access to Shopping” came in last at No. 7.
On questions about what would encourage people to drive less, participants were critical of Winchester’s sidewalks, bicycle lanes and public transportation system. More than 60% of survey respondents want new and repaired sidewalks that lead to more shops and services and over 50% said there needs to be more distance between bicycle and traffic lanes. As for public transit, 55% said there is nothing that would encourage them to use WinTran buses.
The most critical survey responses came from the question “Are you satisfied with the adequacy of your access to grocery stores?” Seventy-two percent of the 391 survey respondents said they were either “Not Very Satisfied” or “Very Dissatisfied.” That is particularly significant considering that 92% of them reported they buy groceries in a full-service grocery store, and only five such stores — Martin’s, Walmart, Target, Food Maxx and Sharp Shopper — are located within city limits.
Attracting and expanding businesses was given the highest priority for how the city should invest its tax dollars. Rounding out the top three were streets that are more accommodating to pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as expanded and enhanced parks and recreation resources. The lowest priority was given to the creation of a meeting and events center, a project that Winchester officials have been pursuing for nearly five years.
Participants made it clear they want the updated Comprehensive Plan to make housing a priority. More than 80% said they “Support” or “Highly Support” housing opportunities for empty nesters, retirees, young professionals, individuals with disabilities and working adults. Student housing received the least support but was still backed by 67% of respondents.
About 60 survey participants said the best places for increased housing density would be in Old Town or southern Winchester, while 38 preferred the North End. Forty-five said “Nowhere.”
“Nowhere” was the top response to a question about where Winchester should allow the construction of structures that exceed the city’s current maximum height of 75 feet. Coming in a close second with 54 responses was “Anywhere/Everywhere,” and the third most popular location was “Downtown.” Four people replied “Frederick County,” but the city’s Comprehensive Plan does not dictate how the surrounding county governs its development.
People who would rather provide their Comprehensive Plan input in person are encouraged to attend one of four public sessions to be held in the coming weeks:
2 p.m. July 25 in the Frederick Douglass Elementary School gymnasium, 100 W. Cedarmeade Ave.
10 a.m. July 29 in the Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School cafeteria, 550 Virginia Ave.
6:30 p.m. July 31 in the John Kerr Elementary School cafeteria, 427 Meadow Branch Ave.
6:30 p.m. Aug. 6 in the Garland Quarles Elementary School cafeteria, 1310 S. Loudoun St.
Each session will include a brief overview of the Comprehensive Plan update process, as well as highlights of the current plan. For more information, contact the Winchester Planning Department at 540-667-1815 or Plngdept@winchesterva.gov.