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Orange eases into having planning staffer

ORANGE — With the economy on a slow rebound, the town Planning Board has been buzzing with activity, as more entrepreneurs are looking to Orange as a location to start or expand a business.

Over the past year, the volunteer board has been taxed with proposals for new development such as the expansion of Walmart, the installation of several solar farms and the opening of a new Tractor Supply store.

That’s why selectmen sent budget recommendations to the Finance Committee that include $7,200 of Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy’s salary in a new role as town planner.

Kennedy said that this addition to the town budget would allow him to provide staff assistance to the Planning Board so he can support members as they wade through the growing pile of proposals. He can also provide “customer service” to prospective new businesses hoping to set up operations in Orange, helping them navigate the permitting process, and answering their questions about the status of their proposal.

Kennedy is trained as a planner, and has served in that role in other communities before coming to Orange.

Town Administrator Diana Schindler said that having Kennedy work in that role “will be a great benefit … increased economic development is the only way Orange is going to grow and prosper over the next 10 or 20 years.”

Selectman Kathy Reinig told the board at a meeting earlier this month that she attended a Citizens Planning Conference at which she learned that towns with successful cultural districts had a full-time organizer of volunteer efforts. These staff members ensured “cross pollination of ideas” and prevented volunteers working at cross purposes. Reinig said that she saw Kennedy as providing that leadership, and expressed support of the move to fund his role as the town’s planner.

“This is all part of a bigger plan to have the different parts of my salary funded through the town budget,” Kennedy said.

He said that the planning work is the first piece of that strategy, but other portions of his salary will be requested in subsequent years. Currently, his salary is funded entirely through a federal community development grant.

Schindler said his position is vulnerable if the grant is not renewed each year. Orange has a strong track record of getting these grants, but the town’s proposal was not funded in 2012.

“If that grant were to go away … it will be critical for the town to have this position funded in the budget,” she added.

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