Survey shows Northfield residents want new development — but not near their homes

Main Street in Northfield.

Main Street in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-18-2024 4:24 PM

NORTHFIELD — Residents want new restaurants, commercial activity, housing and business development in town, Grant Development Director Leslie Roberts told the Selectboard this week — just “not on their own streets.”

Roberts presented the results of an Economic Development Community Survey to the Selectboard Tuesday evening. The survey, which was distributed both online and through paper copies from Nov. 27 until Jan. 30, aimed to gauge the town’s vision for future economic growth to help local government shape future projects.

The survey had two portions — the first being multiple choice with 152 responses and the second being an open-answer question, which garnered 134 responses.

According to survey results, roughly 82% of respondents agreed that outdoor recreation “should be highlighted or pursued” to attract out-of-town visitors. Although the vast majority, or roughly 76%, of respondents claimed they wanted to see an increase in business development, they wanted it to be located “elsewhere in town.” Only 46 respondents said they wanted to see increased business development on their own street.

Roberts mentioned there was a similar disparity between the 78 respondents who wanted to see housing development in town and the 35 who wished to see it near their homes. In the open response section, many residents expressed support for the development of pre-existing sites as multi-family or mixed-use housing, she continued.

“A lot of people share the sentiment that we need to have more space for families to settle and more housing available for families and for different structures of families,” Roberts said. “Talking about economic development, people want it, but I think this [survey] demonstrates where they want that to happen, which is essentially not on their own streets.”

Although Roberts said survey results did not specifically display where residents hoped to see development, the overall consensus in the open-ended survey portion, which asked residents how they would like to see Northfield change over the next five years, showed an interest in tasteful and “quaint” development on Main Street.

“There were a lot of different words people use to say that rural, safe, unique, classical, quaint, quintessential, the natural and outdoors aspect ... but the basic gist of this is that people want economic development, but they don’t want it to compromise what they see as the charming, quiet side of the town,” Roberts said.

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The three most common desires expressed by the 134 open-answer survey respondents were new restaurants, which many said was part of their five-year vision for Northfield; new shops and businesses, mentioned by 42 residents; and outdoor recreation, which was brought up by 37 residents.

Selectboard Clerk Sarah Kerns said she was surprised by the number of respondents who specifically mentioned the importance of food-related businesses such as farm stands, restaurants and grocery stores in the open-ended portion of the survey.

“I was really struck with the amount of food comments. People were asking for restaurants and coffee and a diner ... so it seems like food seems to be a really big issue,” Kerns said. “Economic development is not ‘development development.’ People think [it means] come in and tear something down and put up a giant concrete building. ... Economic development is well within our capabilities in a small town. It’s a rural town keeping that rural nature.”

In the coming weeks and months, Roberts said the town will share the survey findings with residents and stakeholders through a series of workshops funded by MassDevelopment to garner the viewpoints of a larger portion of the town population.

Town Administrator Andrea Llamas said in addition to these workshops, the town is searching for ways to attract new businesses without sacrificing Northfield’s small-town essence.

“How do we help foster that development?” she said. “It’s very hard — someone starting a restaurant has to have a million dollars. It’s a huge, expensive, upfront cost to do something like that. … We can’t start a business as a town, but [this is about] how we create and help move those along so that someone sees that as an opportunity and can get support from us to make that happen.”

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.