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Planning Department to Add New Position to Assist With Long Term Planning

The Burlington Planning Department will be adding a new position to help keep up with the busy workload the staff currently faces and to give them a chance to focus on more long term planning.

The new position will be a Development Coordinator. The salary for the position was part of the department’s FY23 operating budget request that was approved by Town Meeting on Monday after some debate among members about the need for a new hire.

Planning Director Kristin Kassner said the position was needed to allow the staff to both handle the large volume of work that comes in and to give them an opportunity to plan for the future. She said the department has only four members and there has only been one position added in the past 29 years. On top of that, the volume of work has increased over the years as Burlington’s commercial sector has grown.

“We’re at a point where we’re not able to fill the service needs of what is coming to our department,” Kassner said.

Kassner added that with the current workload, the department staff is unable to spend sufficient time on planning for the future.

“It is affecting our ability to forecast into the future to ensure the fiscal stability of these projects,” she said.

In backup material supplied to Town Meeting, the department further explained the need for long-term planning.

“Planning is a process that seeks to engage all members of a community to create more prosperous, convenient, equitable and attractive places for present and future generations,” the backup states. “Planning is not simply reacting to what comes in the door. In order for Burlington to realize locally preferred development patterns, we must think ahead and plan for our future.”

Planning Board member Barbara L’Heureux said that the importance of planning can be seen in the town’s current economic environment. She said a few years ago the department started taking actions to ensure that Burlington would be attractive to biotech and other medical companies and that has worked out well for the town. She said that as traditional office space is becoming less a necessity for companies, more labs and research structures are opening up.

“One of the best things our staff has done is prepare the town for biotech – that really saved us,” she said. “If we hadn’t planned for that five or six years ago we’d be hurting right now. But what’s next? That’s what our staff should be working on but they are just trying to keep their heads above water right now.”

Some Town Meeting members asked if the position was necessary and how Burlington’s Planning Department compared in size to the departments of other communities in the area. L’Heureux argued that was the wrong question to ask as each town has different priorities and challenges.

“Rather than compare us to other communities I think what we need to consider is how we can service Burlington best,” she said. “We have an excellent staff but they are getting burnt out and we’re going to lose them if it continues at this pace – it’s not sustainable. We need an extra person to not only handle the incoming work that comes to us and all of the things we have to process but also because we need to do planning.”

In the end the proposed FY23 budget for the department was approved.