Resigning Concord city planner: ‘I wouldn’t say … I wanted to leave’

  • Concord City Hall GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 8/16/2016 12:13:57 AM

Concord City Planner Nancy Larson resigned her position effective this week, making her the third head of that division to step down in five years.

Speaking about her decision – after 2½ years managing two planners and an assistant – she said, “I wouldn’t say necessarily that I wanted to leave, but beyond that, I really don’t have any comment.”

She added of her future, “I have no plans at this point in time.”

Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for development and supervisor of the city planner, said he’s going to hold off on filling the job “for the next several months.” He said he’s confident the division can operate smoothly with three staffers in the meantime.

“From the public’s perspective, I don’t foresee a significant drop off in terms of customer service,” he said.

Because the two other planners are relatively new to the department, City Manager Tom Aspell said he wants to see how they do on their own before he makes a staffing decision. He noted, however, that there’s no need to cut costs, and the upcoming introduction of an economic development director has no bearing on the freeze.

“Essentially what type of person do you hire to complement them? Because it really is a team effort,” he said. “If they’d both been here five years, it’d be pretty easy to know what everybody’s skills and abilities are.”

Aspell and Baia were each complimentary of the remaining planners, Assistant City Planner Heather Shank and Senior Planner Beth Fenstermacher, both of whom Larson hired. Mayor Jim Bouley added, “I wish Nancy Larson all the best – she’s been a wonderful city employee – but I am completely confident that we have two superstars” remaining on the staff.

Larson came to Concord in March 2014, after eight years as the planning and zoning administrator in Merrimack. She replaced Gloria McPherson, who moved on to Provincetown, Mass., after two years in Concord. Larson made $80,026 in 2015.

The planner who preceded both of them, Doug Woodward, complained after he retired in July 2011 of micromanagement in the division, according to Monitor reporting at the time. He stepped down after a decade on the job because his pro-development bosses tried to influence the advice he gave to the planning board, he said.

Aspell said the turnover since Woodward retired shouldn’t be seen as a result of the situation he described.

“I don’t see anything there,” he said. “It just hasn’t clicked so (that) someone’s said I want to be there for 10 years or 20 years.”

Planning board member Susanne Smith-Meyer said she was surprised to learn that Larson had resigned.

“I thought she was doing a great job, and her attention to detail was unparalleled, really. I found it very easy to work with her,” she said.

City Councilor Byron Champlin, who’s the designated councilor serving on the planning board, said Larson put into place a more streamlined process for planning board meetings. That, along with the strong staff at the lower levels in the planning division, made him think the department will run efficiently while it takes its time to find a replacement.

“There’s a delicate balance in the planning department,” he said. “It has to be looking at the best interest of the city in a variety of manners,” maintaining the codes, while trying to encourage appropriate growth and “keeping an eye to preserving those parts of the city that are important from a historic perspective.”

“I think it’s natural tensions might arise around that, but, again, hopefully we can find somebody to play the role, who can act collaboratively with the planning board and with the development interests in the city, while still being a watchdog and protecting those things that need to be protected,” he said.

Shank, the assistant city planner, will serve as the clerk of the planning board, Aspell said. Larson’s last day is Wednesday.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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