Search underway for new Zoning official

MANCHESTER - It won't be the office of planning and zoning when the successor to long-serving Lee Krohn is hired for the position - it will be the office of zoning and planning.

The reversal of title indicates a subtle but definite shift towards placing more emphasis on the zoning administrator side of the job going forward. While long term planning is still important, it's in the zoning arena where the rubber most fully meets the highway, said Town Manager John O'Keefe.

"We're looking for a zoning administrator who can do planning duties," he said. "Most people are looking for guidance on what can be done on certain parcels."

The basic duties of a zoning administrator include enforcement of town bylaws developed by the planning commission, issuing zoning permits and explaining to the public what can and cannot be built on specific property lots. Planning, by contrast, is less immediate, more "big picture," and somewhat more internal by nature. The planning director needs to provide assistance to the planning and development design/review board, as well as the town manager and select board, O'Keefe said.

The duties are related, but do require slightly different skill sets. The plan is not to separate the office back into two distinct positions, staffed by different people, but to keep it as a combined job.

The position has been advertised and a substantial number of résumés and letters of interest received. The job opening will be posted until Friday, Oct. 25. A six-member committee consisting of several members from the various town boards, the town clerk's office and the town manager has been formed to screen the résumés and applications and winnow them down to a group of final candidates. The hope is to be able to announce a hire by the middle of November, O'Keefe said.

The Select Board will ultimately appoint the new zoning administrator, who then will be appointed planning director by the town manager. Were they separate positions, the zoning administrator would also play a role in appointing the planning director; presumably the new zoning director will also consider themselves qualified for the planning director position as well.

In the meantime, Matt Daskal, who is currently serving as the town's director of operations and human resources, is filling in as acting zoning administrator and planning director. The goal is to keep the routine business flowing as smoothly as possible, but deferring, where possible, larger and more consequential projects until a new, permanent zoning administrator is in place.

"Our strategy between now and then is to be careful, and make sure the permits we are issuing are appropriate, legal and correct," O'Keefe said. "We're not looking to do things fancy over the next couple of weeks."

Life however, sometimes fails to cooperate that perfectly, and the next meeting of the Development Review Board will feature an appeal of a permit granted on Sept. 30 to the owners of Equinox Square Plaza to allow for a new Subway restaurant. Or is it a "fast food" restaurant? The issue is far from academic and has large parking space implications. The development review board will have to make that call, with or without a zoning administrator deeply familiar with the ins and outs of the zoning ordinances and bylaws.

More conferring with the town's legal counsel may be part of the picture as they proceed on a slow but steady track, O'Keefe said.

"People will need to be a little patient, it will be a slower process," he said. "Our goal is to hire the right person for the job."


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