The natural environment, beauty and safe surroundings are the top reasons why people choose to live in Palm Beach, according to residents who responded to a recent community survey.
Roughly 95 percent of residents who responded to the town’s digital inquiry rated the quality of life on the island as “good” or “very good.”
Environmental threats and traffic congestion were rated as top drawbacks to life in the town. More than three quarters of those surveyed said they were concerned about a destructive windstorm or excessive rainfall striking the island.
Flooding and other climate change impacts, along with unease about drinking water quality and pesticide use, rounded out the list of top environmental concerns.
The town’s Strategic Planning Board, led by Mayor Danielle Moore, is using the survey to take the pulse of the town as the board develops Palm Beach’s next long-term strategic plan, due next year. The plan will reach into all aspects of government and town life while staking out long-term goals to protect the quality of life.
The survey was conducted by Community Data Platforms, a database management company based in Bethesda, Maryland. The results were presented to the Strategic Planning Board last month by Alan Worden, founder and CEO of Community Data Platforms, and Thomas Herrmann, demographer with the company.
The digital survey was open from July 21 until Aug. 19. A link was sent to approximately 8,700 addresses on the town’s email alert list and the survey was also available on the town’s website. The email list includes full- and part-time residents and non-residents who work in or visit the town.
The response from 1,500 people “is proportionally one of the strongest response rates we’ve seen,” Herrmann told the planning board. “This shows us that people that took this survey, who are representative of the town in many ways, are really engaged in their community, happy and their community.”
The median age of survey respondents was 67. Slightly over half of respondents were women, he said.
About three-quarters of respondents said they stay in Palm Beach between three and six months of the year. The median length of time they have lived on the island was 17 years, Herrmann said. About 12 percent were non-residents who work in Palm Beach. One in 25 said they neither live nor work in Palm Beach but visit the town for leisure activities.
More than 90 percent of residents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the safety of their neighborhood, its proximity to stores and access to public parks, the beach and Lake Trail.
A very high rate of respondents – 81 percent – rated their access to health care and pharmacy services as “good” or “very good.” Three-fourths said the quality of emergency medical services is good or very good.
More than half said they had experienced traffic delays, had trouble finding parking spaces in a public area, and had encountered flooding on a street or bike path.
A surprisingly high number of respondents – 65 percent – reported that they are usually able to find a public parking space after searching for less than 10 minutes.
Hermann said parking always poses a challenge for vacation or luxury destinations like Palm Beach. “There’s no place worth going that doesn’t have a parking problem,” he said. “… having tight parking sometimes is a testament to [the fact that] people want to be in the town.”
Asked about trusted sources of drinking water, roughly two-thirds of respondents said they use “grocery-store or bottled water” or have a home filtration system. About one in four said they rely on tap water.
Nearly nine out of 10 respondents reported exercising or participating in sports at least 3-4 hours per week. Fourteen percent said they exercise 11 hours or more each week. “You have a very healthy demographic in Palm Beach,” Worden said.
Planning board member Michael Reiter noted that a surprisingly low percentage of respondents reported using town recreational facilities: 18 percent said they play golf at the town’s Par 3 course, 10 percent participated in the tennis programs, and only 7 percent said they use the Mandel Recreation Center.
“Those seem to be really small numbers,” given the success of the town’s recreation programs, said Reiter, who is a former Palm Beach police chief.
Board member Nicki McDonald noted that the numbers could be misleading because the maximum capacity of the recreation facilities is low compared to the large number of survey respondents.
There was also space for respondents to write in whatever concerns or comments they had. Two write-in concerns that came up were about the intensity of construction on the island, and the cost of living, Hermann said.
Reiter asked that a copy of all the write-in comments be provided to all the board members for future consideration.
The planning board’s next meeting is 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 4, in the meeting chambers at Town Hall, according to the town’s website.
In addition to Moore, Reiter and McDonald, the other board members are Alfred “Skip” Aldridge, Elizabeth Dowdle, Kristin Kelly Fisher, Peter McKelvy, Katherine Ostberg, and Michael Pucillo, who is a former Town Council president and current vice chairman of the Palm Beach Civic Association.