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Planning Board conducts visual preference survey for senior housing

The Planning Board has posted an online visual preference survey to gather public feedback about senior housing types and strongly encourages citizens to take it. This survey is part of the board’s multiphase plan to craft a senior housing bylaw that is right for Harvard’s citizens, in time for the Spring 2021 Town Meeting. Based on feedback from previous surveys, the Planning Board is leaning toward a more limited bylaw proposal than the one originally drafted.

The visual preference survey shows survey-takers dozens of images of different buildings of a certain type (such as single-family homes), asks the survey taker to rate each one on a scale from 1 to 10, and then repeats this process with different housing types. The Planning Board hopes the survey’s results will reveal which design features and housing types Harvard residents like and dislike. During an interview, Planning Board member Jane Biering said she found taking the survey to be an interesting experience, as she found patterns in her own rating that revealed preferences she had not previously realized she held.

The survey will be available until Jan 22. It can be found at, or from the Planning Board’s page on the town website.

This is the board’s third and final survey, the previous two being written surveys assessing people’s needs and preferences in housing. The board’s next step will be to hold focus groups to get the opinions of relevant people, such as real estate professionals, senior citizens, and community influencers.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, the board’s Senior Housing Working Group, consisting of Biering, Gwen Leonard, and Director of Community and Economic Development Chris Ryan, reported its findings from the first two surveys. They recommended that the board limit the focus of its proposal for the Spring 2021 Town Meeting to housing types that are both simple and ranked highly on previous surveys: single-family homes, accessory apartments, and independent living (planned retirement communities). The board would plan to work on more complex housing types, such as senior residential villages or multifamily dwellings, at a later time, potentially working them into other new zoning initiatives. It might also entirely drop some housing types if the third survey and future outreach show that residents express generally negative feedback about them.

The new plan to spread senior housing bylaws over multiple town meetings is still an outline, and the board did not come to a conclusion about whether to adopt it. Board member Fran Nickerson cautioned that more of Harvard’s older citizens leave town every year, so any delay has a cost. However, board members generally supported the core concept of reducing the scope of the new bylaw and saving some types of housing for future bylaws.

See “Reflections: Planning by the Numbers.".

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