Hopedale discusses position of Town Planner
At a joint meeting of the Select Board and Finance Committee on May 16, town officials discussed the possibility of hiring a Town Planner or “Director of Development” to help the town oversee several current and upcoming development projects, and other items related to future planning.
The position is meant to be a professional position, perhaps filled by a retired professional planner, with a salary of approximately $75,000. It is not meant to be an administrative position.
The Select Board was unanimous in its support of the position. Finance Committee Chairman Christopher Hodges said his board would discuss the issue at its next meeting.
Select Board Chair Glenda Hazard said, “There is a need to have a point person in the development sphere, not necessarily just for the developers but also for the stakeholders, Conservation Commission, maybe residents that have questions, to kind of be fielded through that person.”
Finance Committee members expressed concerns about adding any new positions to a budget that often has tight margins. Some members noted there are additional costs beyond salary to be considered such as benefits, future salary increases, etc.
Town Administrator Diana Schindler noted the town’s desire to hire a town planner started before she started her position with the town in 2020.
“This isn’t new,” Schindler said. “We aren’t positioning ourselves to be responsive to applicants. We’re costing applicants more time and money. We’re costing ourselves more time and money.”
Schindler said she is currently managing the work that should be done by a planning professional, including being proactive about zoning and any other issue related to development that could impact the town now or in the future.
Typically, a town planner provides professional, administrative and technical support on land use issues including site plan review, subdivision review, special permits, and zoning bylaw changes. They also coordinate long-range community and regional planning for a town, etc. Hazard said, “It’s always best for us to steer the ship. I think there have been many times we have reacted [to] what’s come to us when, if we had better protections, better plans, better projected ‘what we want and what we don’t want,’ then some of these things would be easier. There would be less of the emotional, financial stress that we all go through when projects come because we have already kind of decided ‘we’re okay with this kind of thing here and this kind of thing here,’ and I also think we lose money by not freeing up the time to pursue [grant] money.”
The board was set to discuss the issue at its May 23 meeting.