In Powell, charm trumps traffic

The Columbus Dispatch – September 6, 2008

POWELL — Residents cherish the small-town feel of this growing city.

They value it so much that more than half of residents surveyed recently said that preserving the city’s charm was more important than reducing traffic congestion — a growing problem in Powell.

Fifty-three percent of residents who took a community attitudes survey commissioned by the city said it’s more important to keep the downtown’s charming atmosphere than reduce congestion. Forty-four percent said it was more important to reduce congestion. Three percent couldn’t make up their minds.

Just more than half of the 403 respondents ranked Powell an exceptional place to live, and 42 percent said it’s better than average.

Residents like the city’s location, good schools, attractive homes and friendly people.

“The residents of the city feel that the direction that we’re headed is the right direction, so that’s good to know,” Mayor Tom Counts said. “They’re very happy with the services that we provide, but we’ve got some areas that we need to improve.”

Despite its charm, the southern Delaware County city isn’t flawless. Residents are troubled by heavy traffic and commercial development, the survey shows.

When asked to identify problems or concerns that should be high priorities for public officials, traffic topped the list, followed by controlling growth, taxes and safety.

The city’s operations committee will study the survey results, and officials will use the data for planning, Counts said. “This is really the first tool that we have that we hear from a representative cross-section of the community,” he said.

Earlier this year, the city hired Saperstein Associates, a Columbus polling firm, to conduct phone interviews with a random sample of registered voters living in the city.

Of the 403 respondents, 52 percent were women; 48 percent were men.

The survey cost the city $15,200 and is part of an effort by officials to increase communication with residents, City Manager Steve Lutz said.

Lutz said he was pleasantly surprised by the high praise the city received.

“There’s always a danger when you’re a public official to be seduced by an anecdote,” said Martin Saperstein, president of the polling firm. “If one or two people call and express a point of view, it’s hard to know without a survey if just one or two people think that.”

Comments from poll respondents ranged from compliments to complaints:

“Powell is terrific. I am a transplant from New York, so I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven living here.”

“I think Powell is going through some growing pains as new people express themselves.”

“Powell can’t continue to be a bedroom community. They need to invite businesses to share the tax base.”

“It’s a wonderful place to live, but don’t tell anyone. We don’t need any more people moving into town.”