SOUTHINGTON — Balancing growth with conservation and preservation is the town’s biggest land use challenge, according to its new director of Planning and Community Development.
Maryellen Edwards began her new role last month, filling the position left vacant when Rob Phillips departed. Edwards, of Cheshire, most recently served as Woodbury’s town planner for nearly five years.
“I live nearby and have always thought Southington was a beautiful town with a great sense of community,” she said. “Then during the interview process, it was clear that there are a lot of great things happening here from development to community activities and I was excited to become a part of it.”
Phillips left in June and now serves as executive director of the Northwest Hills Council of Governments.
While in Woodbury, Edwards worked on an update of the 2020 Plan of Conservation and Development, a comprehensive zoning regulations update and the Municipal Affordable Housing Plan. She also obtained grants for the Planning and Historic District commissions for various projects and coordinated Woodbury’s efforts to achieve Sustainable Connecticut’s bronze certification.
Edwards received a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and policy at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. She went on to work for the Florida Environmental Protection Agency where she managed the daily operations of the Submerged Lands and Environmental Resource Compliance Program and supervised a staff of nine. She has also worked for Milone & McBroom engineers, Eversource Energy and received her municipal and land use certifications in Connecticut.
Edwards’ short-term goals is to become more familiar with the day-to-day operations while developing “a better understanding of the town’s needs and then subsequently working to identify and implement planning projects that will support those needs,” she said.
Southington’s residential development has grown and there continues to be a fair amount of development. The need to balance growth with preservation and conservation can be a challenge, Edwards said.
Economic Development Director Louis Perillo agreed, He said people assume that his role means developing every available parcel of land, when rehabilitation and preservation are crucial.
“The town planner hit it right on the head,” Perillo said. “We prefer to redevelop and remediate contaminated sites before building on new sites. When you see the town is growing exponentially in residential areas, we’re proud that we’re able to maintain commercial and industrial growth at the same rate. This helps provide for schools, services and jobs.”
Perillo agreed with Edwards that smart growth is critical and points to the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development that revealed the community rated open space as a top priority.
Edwards is grateful for the opportunity to work in the town and is “looking forward to working with the residents, businesses, staff and leadership on projects that will help to strengthen the community,” she said.