December 20, 2014

New planner brings world of experience

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

John Adams traveled halfway around the world to work as a planner. Now he’s returned to his boyhood home-away-from-home to ply his trade.

Adams was recently hired as Williston’s development review planner. The job, which blends clerical and higher-level planning tasks, suits a recent college graduate like Adams, who holds a master’s degree in planning.

Adams, 24, was born in Montreal, but he has roots in Vermont. His father’s side of the family is from Vermont, and Adams spent summers here when he was growing up.

His grandfather for years operated Adams Boots and Shoes on the Church Street Marketplace. While in high school, Adams spent a summer working in the store.

After graduating high school, Adams traveled extensively, living in or visiting Australia, New Zealand and Japan. He also lived in New York City.

Adams later earned a bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal and a graduate degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

In 2005, before finishing college, he spent a summer working as a researcher and lecturer in the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources. He presented his findings about how the government could maintain neighborhood character in the Beijing area, where many residents have been dislocated to make room for booming business growth.

In a written summary of the experience, Adams said that redevelopment was a sensitive issue for the Chinese government, so he “had to be highly aware of every word I used and image I presented.”

Adams said it is hard to draw parallels between his experience in Beijing, a city of 14 million people, to his new job in Williston, population roughly 8,200. Though the town has grown considerably over the past 20 years, Adams said Williston’s changes have been modest compared to those in China.

“The speed of development in the city is just unbelievable,” he said.

But he does seem some similarities, particularly the dearth of affordable housing.

“The problems and issues are similar, although on a different scale,” Adams said.

After earning his graduate degree, Adams began looking for planning positions, especially openings in Vermont. He found the Williston job on the American Planning Association’s Web site.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said there were 22 applicants for the position. He said Adams was the best candidate because he had limited experience but the extensive education the entry level position called for.

Adams replaces David Pesnichak, who left the position to take a job as a senior planner in Colorado. The development review position was created as part of a reorganization of Williston’s Planning and Zoning Department. The reorganization was designed to streamline the department by ensuring each staff member had a professional planning background.

The development review planner provides administrative support for the other planning staffers as well as the Development Review Board, Design Advisory Committee and Historic Preservation Commission. The development review planner also participates in long-range planning projects, such as developing the Comprehensive Plan, and fields queries from the general public and developers.

Adams, who is an avid bicyclist, said he’s thrilled to be back living amid the Green Mountains.

“It’s just fantastic,” he said. “I consider myself lucky to be able to ride through the hills and enjoy the clean environment.”

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