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What do Hotchkiss residents value?

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According to a community survey, Hotchkiss residents value the small-town atmosphere and climate of "The Friendliest Town Around," but would like to see more recreational opportunities and a more attractive downtown area.

The survey was made available to anyone living in the Hotchkiss area as part of the process of updating the town's five-year-old master plan.

Tom Wills, a town trustee and the lead planner for the master plan revision, said Hotchkiss first adopted a master plan in 2006. The planning document is updated every five years, making this the third go-round.

The master plan is a guiding document to help future elected and appointed officials, as well as town staff, determine the direction of Hotchkiss.

"A master plan should be the foundation of every regulation," Wills explained. "Regulations shouldn't be adopted unless people say they want or need them."

The surveys were not mailed out, due to budget constraints, but were made available at town hall, the library, several businesses and online. Although a smaller percentage of surveys were returned (10-12 percent), Wills believes the results represent the people who have community "buy-in" -- older residents who own their own homes and have lived in Hotchkiss more than a decade.

Only nine renters filled out surveys, despite the fact that about 35 percent of all housing units within Hotchkiss are rentals, Wills noted.

Nearly all respondents indicate a need for senior housing and affordable housing. "That's been true since we began surveying residents," Wills said. Because there is no low-income or assisted living housing in Hotchkiss, many seniors on fixed incomes are forced to move out of town.

When asked to rank the top five infrastructure/recreation items most in need of improvement, citizens put street maintenance at the top of the list. Rounding out the top five were sidewalks, snow removal, recreation facilities and town clean-up.

"Generally, citizens would like to see a busier, more walkable, safer, attractive downtown without losing the current small-town feel," Wills noted in a summary report. "Traffic/speed control and mosquito control drew broad concern ... and overall, walking trails and bike trails were strongly encouraged."

While not every concern falls under the purview of the town's planning commission, other survey questions provide useful information for planning. For example, most residents believe new mobile homes should be allowed only in mobile home parks. Multifamily housing should be allowed in designated areas only. Most believe multifamily housing with four to eight units would be ideal.

Commercial/industrial development should be placed within one block either side of Bridge Street or the highway. The exception is a business with "low impact," which respondents feel can be located anywhere in town. The examples of a real estate office, gift shop and beauty shop were provided as low impact uses. On the question of providing financial incentives for new businesses, respondents were split. For economic development, residents believe the Town of Hotchkiss should support home occupation/cottage industry land use regulations within the town. Respondents would also like to see increased use of the county fairgrounds.

Finally, the survey tests the willingness of voters to support a sales tax increase with a question that ties a 2017 general fund shortfall to mine closings and other factors. Most respondents said they would support a 1 percent increase, particularly if a portion of the funds were used for road repairs. A related question about dedicating the sales tax increase to economic development projects was less well received. The survey listed as examples greater financial support for Delta County Economic Development and/or projects that would make the community more attractive to new residents.

Many folks also accepted an invitation to express their thoughts on the town and its future. Wills said those written comments, all of which were included in his completed report, are almost more valuable than the cut-and-dried responses to survey questions.

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