Hattler praised as he leaves boards

VERGENNES — For the second time in recent months, a longtime member of both the Vergennes Planning Commission and the Development Review Board has decided to step down. On May 18, Mark Hattler, a member of both boards since January 2001, submitted his resignation to aldermen via email.
Hattler’s decision, based on his wish to spend more time with his children, follows the departure earlier this spring of longtime planning chairman Neil Curtis, who resigned after a move out of Vergennes.
Mayor Michael Daniels said Hattler would be as hard to replace as Curtis.
“We’ve probably lost two of our stronger players,” Daniels said.
Hattler’s email said he might help out again. It concluded, “please keep me in mind when you are looking for volunteers in the future.”
But Hattler made it clear that at least for now he had to shift his priorities.
“As my kids age and their activities increase, I am finding it increasingly impossible to be at more than one place at the same time,” he wrote. “I have greatly appreciated the trust you have placed in me over the years and I by no means feel this is the end of my participation at some level in volunteer work for the city. However, my family must come first.”
Daniels and City Manager Mel Hawley said Hattler might even work soon, at least on a limited basis. Planners are beginning a rewrite of Vergennes zoning to bring it into line with the new city plan, and Hattler might work on some sections.
Hawley said Hattler’s greatest contribution in his tenure might be the city’s existing zoning laws, which underwent a major redo finished in 2006. Those laws included changes that eased parking requirements for downtown businesses and made it easier for homeowners in the city’s older neighborhoods to add sheds, garages and decks. Other changes were made in the Otter Creek basin and North Main Street areas.
Hattler wrote many of the laws himself, saving the city money, and did an excellent job helping to create a workable, fair and easy-to-follow document, Hawley said.
“Many towns, if you were going to do a comprehensive rewrite of the zoning regs, you wouldn’t do it in-house. You would hire a consultant first. We didn’t need to do that,” Hawley said. “He really put his heart and soul into this.”
Hawley said Hattler also successfully wrote a grant application that funded a study of the older neighborhoods that laid the groundwork for those zoning laws and will also prove helpful in the current update.
What Hawley also appreciated was that when he returned as zoning administrator in 2002 after a four-year absence, he recommended to the city council that they reject an earlier draft of the laws that Hattler had worked two years on, yet Hattler simply went back to work after aldermen agreed with Hawley.
“Most people would quit. Mark Hattler did not,” Hawley said. “He recognized the work done in 2001 and 2002 was not good work even though he was part of it.”
At one point, Hattler had served as chairman of each board, and Hawley said he was always a vocal leader on both.
“He also throughout those years took on a leadership role as well,” he said.
Both Hawley and Daniels also addressed Hattler’s outspoken nature. Hattler often publicly, if politely, disagreed with the majority of his board members, expressing contrary views not only in DRB and planning meetings but also at times before the city council.
Sometimes, Hawley said, disagreements arose because Hattler believed developers should set aside land to remain open, an issue that, for example, cropped up during talks about how to develop the Bourgeois parcel on West Main Street.
That point of view was misunderstood, Hawley said.
“I think he understood the need for development opportunity in the community,” he said. “Sometimes folks might think that because Mark was pressing for more open space or more conserved land … that he was anti-business, and that was not the case.”
Daniels described Hattler as “a very smart individual” who had the city’s best interest at heart, and said that his at-times opposing points of view were in fact healthy.
“He is the one that brings the contrast you need when you look at these things,” Daniels said. “Mark is the one who thinks somewhat outside the box, and you need a player like that on the team.”
Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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