Nancy Malcolm leaves mark on Middlebury’s planning efforts

MIDDLEBURY — Nancy Malcolm never planned on joining the planning commission. It was former Better Middlebury Partnership Coordinator Gail Freidin who encouraged her to join in 2005.
“I had never thought about it, which begs the issue that you do have to ask and recruit new people,” she said.
Thirteen years later, Malcolm is stepping away from the commission after having led it through a very busy period that included a massive re-write of the Middlebury Town Plan.
“I’ve been on it a long time, and I also firmly believe you need change and new people coming in with new ideas,” Malcolm said.
She joined the commission at a time when members also served as the local development review board (DRB). The selectboard soon after created a separate planning commission and DRB.
Existing members were given a choice to serve on either the commission or the board. Malcolm chose the former.
“I really liked the organization and the creative thinking part, looking at the big picture,” Malcolm said of the commission. “(Planning) is like a puzzle. That appealed to me more than judging (development) applications.”
She continues to see the DRB, planning commission and selectboard as three separate branches of government. The DRB serves as the judiciary, the planning commission as the legislative arm and the selectboard is the executive branch, she said.
The commission did a lot of heavy lifting during Malcolm’s tenure. It dealt with issues that included sprawl, big box stores and the promotion of affordable housing. Under Malcolm’s leadership in 2012, the panel completed the most ambitious town plan re-write in Middlebury’s history, a two-year effort that included a townwide survey, many public hearings and some exhaustive research.
“We decided to look at the process differently,” Malcolm said. “What we wanted was a town plan that worked, that you could relate to, and hopefully get other departments and committees to use it. I think in the past, the town plan was something that just sat on a shelf.”
Her dedication to planning earned her the 2008 “citizen planner of the year” for the entire region of Northern New England. The award was bestowed upon her by the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association.
Malcolm believes that in years to come affordable housing and energy will become increasingly importance town plan topics. Middlebury will need to make strides in those and other economic areas if it is going to remain a viable settlement area for new generations, according to Malcolm.
“The affordability issue is probably, for me, the most worrisome,” Malcolm said. “Allowing people to move here, remain here, enjoy what we have here. We have something so special.”
So special that Malcolm has immersed herself into local causes.
She and her husband, Dr. James “Chip” Malcolm, have been active volunteers since moving to Middlebury during the early 1970s. While Chip has primarily made his contributions to Middlebury-area school boards, Nancy has gone the eclectic route, giving her time to benefit young children, natural and cultural resources, and planning.
She was a leader in the design and construction of the former KidSpace playground at Mary Hogan Elementary School that was built by 1,500 community volunteers over four days in 1987. She involved children in the planning and design, generated interest among parents, raised money for the undertaking, and recruited local carpenters and businesses to supply materials and expertise.
Malcolm also served on the Middlebury Union Middle/High School building committee during the early 1990s. The panel’s work culminated in construction of a new MUMS building and substantial renovations to MUHS around 22 years ago.
Other entries on Malcolm’s civic resumé include coordination of a beautification project for the Otter Creek Falls area, service on the Addison Respite Care Home board, chairmanship of a past United Way of Addison County annual fund drive, and participation in a Town Hall Theater fundraisers.
Those who don’t remember Malcolm for her volunteerism might recall her as the owner/operator of the former Red Onion Clothiers store in Frog Hollow. She also worked short stints with the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, Middlebury College and in the real estate field.
“I’ve had a checkered career,” she said with a smile.
She’s thoroughly enjoyed her time on the planning commission and believes she is leaving it in a good place.
“My view of the planning commission evolved over time,” Malcolm said. “I saw the importance of it … but I also saw how everything was interconnected. There was that balance with the planning commission. You have to remember that it’s a whole community.”
It’s a role that has required diplomacy and understanding. She acknowledged the commission’s decisions can have a substantial impact on citizens’ ability to develop their land.
“You really have to understand there’s a balance of working with people’s passions and trying to represent those people who either aren’t informed about what’s going on … or they’re not comfortable coming forward,” Malcolm said.
“You can’t let the ‘loud voice’ determine the outcome of everything.”
It’s a formula that Malcolm believes has worked well.
“We’re really lucky right now,” Malcolm said. “We have an amazing planning commission. It’s thoughtful. Everyone works together toward a consensus. And everybody is smart and brings something to the table. I feel comfortable it will be that way going forward.”
She also feels comfortable with the new stability of the planning and zoning staff. Former Town Planner Middlebury Fred Dunnington shepherded the office for more than 30 years until his retirement in 2013. Malcolm is pleased with current Town Planner Jen Murray, who helped the panel complete the latest town plan update early this year.
Completion of that task has made Malcolm more at ease about stepping away.
“I feel comfortable about where we are,” Malcolm said.
Rest assured, Malcolm will not be stepping away from volunteerism; she’s merely moving on to the next cause: “Neighbors Together,” a new citizens’ group dedicated to helping downtown Middlebury weather the impending rail bridges replacement project. It’s going to be a three-year, $72 million undertaking that will bring a variety of challenges to the downtown, including noise, detours, dust and loss of parking. Neighbors Together and the Better Middlebury Partnership have received a $75,000 state grant to devise ways of minimizing the impacts of the project while encouraging people to shop and dine downtown.
“That’s where I’m going to be putting my emphasis the next three years,” Malcolm said.
Dunnington, who continues to live in Middlebury, gave kudos to Malcolm.
“She’s an organizer, a leader and she has fantastic community connections,” Dunnington said. “I think the town has been lucky to have Nancy serve on the town boards and will continue to be lucky to have her serve in other community organizations.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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