HOUGHTON — Houghton residents pronounced themselves generally satisfied with city services while outlining things they’d like to see added in a recent quality of life survey commissioned by the city for its upcoming master plan revisions.
City intern Stephanie Franco presented the findings to the city Planning Commission at Tuesday night's special meeting. She prepared the report with her faculty advisor, Junhong “Jun” Min, an associate professor of marketing at Michigan Technological University.
The city sent out 1,922 surveys to residents. Franco said 33% of those were returned, which was higher than the 31.9% who returned the 2018 survey.
The survey results are “extremely important” for the Planning Commission’s update of the city’s five-year master plan, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year, Chair Tom Merz said. The data set from the survey will be given to the subcommittees working on each chapter.
“I cannot stress the importance of the master plan enough to the city … if it’s in the plan, that scores points for getting support from other agencies — state and federal dollars,” he said. “If it’s not in the plan, it’s much more difficult.”
Respondents were asked to rate their feelings about overall improvement in city services in several areas over the past five years. Large majorities said the city had improved in each category, ranging from 63.6% in mobility to 89.6% in parks and recreation.
Councilor Mike Needham said that trend appeared to have grown since previous surveys, which he attributed to the city's steps in areas such as park improvements.
In each section, residents also rated their satisfaction with city services and amenities.
The city’s small-town atmosphere pleased residents. Eighty-eight percent of respondents were somewhat or extremely satisfied with a “feeling of security,” with “peaceful environment” getting 83.2%. Amenities such as the city’s waterfront parks (88.4%) and beautification efforts (80%) also scored high marks.
In a section on transportation, most people said they used their vehicle, walked, or bicycled. Most people who used the city’s transit system liked it, as 80.6% were either extremely or somewhat satisfied. The top reason people gave for not using the transit was the stops not being convenient (42.9%).
Residents also weighed in on their satisfaction with the impact of rental properties, both short-term, such as Airbnbs, and long-term, which included student rentals. People felt more positively about the long-term rentals — 44% were extremely or somewhat satisfied versus 28.9% for the short-term.
Sustainable practices improved over the past five years, 82.8% of residents said. The highest usage was curbside recycling, which 79.8% of respondents said they had used.
The lowest satisfaction levels were seen in mobility. The statement “Roads in good condition” found only 23.4% of residents agreeing or strongly agreeing. Low numbers also occurred with statements like “enough sidewalks in my area” (37.4%) or “bike paths are well-maintained” (41%).
Outside of parking enforcement (43.5%), supermajorities were satisfied with city departments, topping out at 74.9% for the fire department.
Another section on the future of downtown Houghton polled residents on the best use of the Lakeshore Drive parking deck property once the deck is demolished this spring. The overwhelming favorite was mixed-use, which 55% of residents preferred.
They also thought mixed retail and housing should be the top consideration in dealing with other aging parking decks (30.3%).
Residents also cared about parking: Repairing or replacing the decks received 24.7%. Another 22.4% said the most important consideration was “downtown parking in general,” while 17.1% suggested developing parking areas in other spots downtown.
People offered suggestions for what they’d like to see come to the city. A top response was the need for a dog park, for which the city recently set aside land off of Sharon Avenue. Other top-10 priorities included more retail and dining, such as ethnic food; a splash pad for children at the Kestner Waterfront Park; maintaining the historic look of businesses; and snow removal that was more mindful of their yards.
The full survey can be found here.