Middlebury hires new planner
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s six-month, cross-country search for a new town planner has finally paid dividends, with the hiring of Eric Blair of Portland, Ore.
Blair, 36, has since 2011 served as a town planner for Oregon’s largest city, where he was responsible for the planning and design of sustainable land use and transportation projects. Prior to that, he worked as sustainability coordinator for Athens-Clarke County, Ga. He has also worked as town planner for the city of Walla Walla, Wash., and as a planner with the University of Georgia’s Metropolitan Design Studio.
Blair said he had been looking for a new challenge and became intrigued when he saw the posting for Middlebury’s town planner vacancy. Fred Dunnington had held that job for more than three decades prior to his retirement on July 1.
“The town planner position in Middlebury was at the top of my list,” Blair said through an e-mail response to questions about his hiring. “I looked at a number of positions across the U.S. but couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work than Middlebury. The region and town provide such a strong sense of place and offer what I call ‘the quality of life factor.’ I have always been fond of Vermont and now I have been given the opportunity to work and raise a family here.”
Blair will begin his duties on Feb. 4. Those duties, as the title implies, will be concentrated on community planning, as well as:
• Serving as principal staff person for the planning commission.
• Drafting proposed revisions to the zoning bylaws, subdivision regulations and town plan.
• Assisting the planning commission with written correspondence, research and other assignments.
• Ensuring the town plan remains current while conducting studies to implement the town plan.
• Identifying policy issues that should be addressed in the town plan, bylaws, or other policy documents.
Ted Dunakin, director of planning and zoning, will oversee day-to-day Middlebury planning office operations and the processing of development applications.
“As a landscape architect and town planner, my priority is to help shape the built and natural environment to provide places of enduring value for the community,” Blair said of his philosophy on planning. “From civic and commercial space to natural area and agriculture, all benefit from thoughtful planning and design.”
Blair has already identified a major project he would like to initiate once he comes on board.
“I have a particularly strong background in urban forestry and hope I can make a contribution in the development of an urban forestry plan for the community,” he said. “Trees are a large part of our built environment and I believe every community should develop a plan that includes the many benefits of an urban forest.”
Middlebury College is, of course, a major presence in the town, and Blair realizes the liberal arts institution will be a substantial factor in the planning process.
“I feel that I would make a strong contribution to the town of Middlebury and that my experience working as a municipal leader in college towns enhances my understanding of a town planner’s role in collaborating with members of the college community, diverse local groups and individuals and regional organizations,” Blair wrote in his application letter. “I am also aware of the character and history of the Middlebury community and of the impact that planning decisions will continue to have on protecting quality of life for residents now and for future generations. Additionally, I believe that my background in applications of traditional town planning, context-sensitive design and landscape architecture offer a balanced and unique set of tools for achieving local goals and objectives.”
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said Blair’s qualifications stood out among the 31 people who applied for the job.
“The selection committee was impressed with Eric’s deep understanding of ‘Form Based Codes’ as an approach to municipal planning and his enthusiasm for full community engagement in the planning process,” Ramsay said.
Dunakin was also impressed with Blair.
“Eric demonstrated a depth of knowledge in the field of planning which, combined with an ability to communicate complicated issues in a simple, understandable way, made him the clear choice.” Dunakin said.
It’s clear Blair is looking forward to joining Middlebury’s staff.
“During the interview process for this position I met some really great people and I look forward to becoming a part of this forward thinking community,” Blair said. “I also like what I am hearing about the school system, as I have a two-year-old who will start school soon.”
John Flowers is at [email protected]
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