by TRISH RUDDER
Results of an online survey about future uses and development in the Town of Bath’s northside/train depot area were presented to the Bath Town Council late last month, and planners say they show potential for growth.
The findings of the survey were reported by Platinum Research through a remote presentation. The survey was administered by the town’s Bath Development Authority (BDA) from August 19 to October 21, 2020.
A $5,000 FOCUS grant from the Northern Brownfields Assistance Center to the North Berkeley Rail Trail paid for the survey work.
About 90 people answered the survey. Of those, 47.7% live within 25 miles of the Town of Bath, 25.6% are residents of the town, and 9.26% were neither. 8.14% of respondents are workers in the town, 8.14% of respondents are business owners in the town, and 1.16% of respondents are elected officials for the town.
BDA member Cindy Bodin said the Platinum’s Northside Depot Community Visioning Survey will be used to put together an “integrated road map” and funding plan for development of the northside depot neighborhood, which is the north end of downtown Bath and centers around the former northside train depot on Williams and North Washington streets.
About 15.5% of survey respondents said the town’s north end potential is not being appropriately leveraged and that the area is neglected and ignored.
Some 50% of respondents said they valued appearance and would appreciate beautification in the northside depot neighborhood. They identified “changing/cleaning the appearance” of the area as “the one thing they would do to change the area.”
Respondents believe the town would benefit from additional methods of transportation. They believe this focus area is a high priority.
“[A] lot of responses involved trails and finishing the rail trail. Respondents believe the trails will improve transportation and provide an outlet for physically active residents and recreational activities,” researchers said.
Those who took the survey also believe that commercial development would benefit the northside of town.
“Almost 20% of respondents indicated that commercial development is the most significant opportunity for the Town of Bath, making it the most popular response,” Platinum Research concluded.
Historic preservation in the town was valued by 14% of the respondents that included the northside depot neighborhood as “historic.” According to survey answers, “[h]istoric preservation is more important to respondents than four other priority areas: economic development, parks, trails, open spaces; tourism and attraction; and town appearance.”
Funding/investment was indicated by respondents as the main challenges or threat for the northside’s future.
Some residents and those living within a 25-mile radius of the town indicated drug activity was a challenge or threat for the northside area’s future.
Resident respondents wanted more safety features in any northside depot land use development.
In addition to the respondents who took the survey, a focus group of 13 participants met virtually on September 14 with Platinum PR scribes, moderator and facilitators who reviewed the survey results.
According to the report, the focus group sees many threats and negative factors that impact the Northside area.
They said they were “disappointed in the previous neglect and lack of progress (related to incomplete projects) that the area experienced.”
They believe the state Division of Highways (DOH) has a large impact on the progress of these projects. “It takes forever to get a resolution,” one participant said.
“The participants discussed multiple studies that have been conducted in previous years and they want the community to organize these studies for their value to this planning process and the area’s development,” researchers told town officials.
The group sensed “a disconnect between the town and the full northside neighborhood community due to the lack of accessibility and jurisdiction boundaries” and there was a “general sense of uncertainty and disagreement regarding the actual limits of the town.”
Focus group members discussed the existence of a “junkyard” in the county that is behind the Train Depot.
“They believe that the junkyard harms the area and suggested a visual block,” consultants told the town.
The group said there is a need for more residential areas, assisted living facilities, community spaces and recreational facilities. They noted the existence of buildings that are not currently in use which could be purchased and revamped.
The focus group participants are optimistic about the future. They believe the existing infrastructure, available space and water running through the area are valuable and encourage opportunities in the area. They discussed the role of tax benefits in attracting businesses. Multiple participants stated that the trail, Cacapon Mountain brewery and progress with other projects would lead to more activity and development.
At the open discussion to analyze the survey, the participants expressed their support of the plans to develop the region, but they had concerns about who will be funding the neighborhood’s investment and development.
“Although they support the project, they feel the project will be faced with backlash if the town residents are expected to pay for the project in taxes,” consultants told the town.
They said if the development “does not generate its own revenue, regardless of the overall benefit, people will not be interested in paying for it.”
Also, they said the northside depot neighborhood boundaries of the county, town and neighborhood are unclear.
“More clarity and public awareness are needed regarding the town and county. Determining the boundaries will be an essential step in the planning process because it will give information about the resources that will be used to build, fund and maintain the area.”
The participants said they would like to see the neighborhood developed, but they do not know how it will be funded or financially sustainable.
The report found that the Town of Bath and the northside depot neighborhood have “substantive positive qualities that could support projects with the right ‘demand drivers.’”
Affordable senior housing is one of the areas mentioned in the report.
“Development of assisted living or retirement housing should be explored,” since about 40% of the local population is more than 55 years of age.
The report suggests low income and subsidized affordable senior housing development “may be achievable.”
It was suggested that “HUD, Rural Development, State and County programs make these projects feasible” and funding opportunities should be explored in a coordinated effort.
Bath has an “eclectic, art-driven personality,” which would go well with the craft beverage industry branding.
“There is a current regional demand for small-town craft beverage industry marketing operations that employs a local workforce,” the report said.
Development of a private facility that produces marketing materials such as graphic design, screen printing, material production, etc. for the craft beverage industry should be explored, and it could grow into other industry supply areas. Custom glass manufacturing was also suggested.
It was recommended that finishing the trailhead and integrating the trail to the town “will support tourism efforts and encourage physical activity among residents.”
Studies have shown positive economic benefits when trail and outdoor recreational facilities “especially if races (bike, swim, run, etc.) are attracted.”
Sidewalk improvements will increase accessibility and visibility of the northside depot neighborhood “and connect it more effectively to the town.” And cleaning the northside neighborhood “is important for tourist attraction and building a sense of community.”
Community facilities are needed in the northside depot area and it was suggested that an outdoor amphitheater be created “to support community engagement and tourism.” Local and state funding grants should be considered for that, said planners.
To better incorporate the town with the northside depot neighborhood, it was suggested that clear signage be developed that includes local history.
To attract development, the municipality should offer a “streamlined land use approval process, low impact fees, tax offset incentives and quick permitting reviews,” which are all elements that can enhance the viability of the project.
The municipality should explore GIS and other digital resources to enhance the ability of developers from outside the area “to quickly understand and become familiar with the land, land use, infrastructure, process and contacts.”
After the presentation, Town of Bath Recorder Susan Webster said the report was very well put together.
“We are a tourism economy and need more diversity,” she said.
Councilman Chris Chapman said that he participated in the survey. He said the town council and BDA need to work together to see “what we can do to move forward.”