April 23, 2014

Town planner resigns position

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Lee Nellis moving to Oregon

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis will quit his job and move out of state so his wife can attend law school in the Pacific Northwest.

Last week, Nellis informed Town Manager Rick McGuire that he intends to leave in July. Nellis said he gave more than two months notice so the town would have ample time to find his replacement.

Nellis said there is still a “1 or 2 percent chance” that he will stay at his job if his wife, Karen, changes her plans to attend school in Oregon. She is still awaiting word on other law school applications.

“I’m kind of along for the ride,” he said.

McGuire said Nellis gave him his letter of resignation last Wednesday. The opening was advertised on an Internet bulletin board for planners, and McGuire said by the following Friday afternoon the town had already received two resumes – one from Nebraska and one from Washington state.

Nellis said his decision to quit came after his wife decided to attend law school in Eugene, Ore. She had applied to other schools, including Vermont Law School in Randolph. She was accepted there, but the commute would have been too long for Nellis to continue working in Williston.

Nellis has worked for the town almost exactly three years. He moved from California to Vermont when he started in May 2004.

Nellis had nearly three decades of experience in planning-related positions when he came to Williston. He had worked as an assistant professor and authored a book on planning.

His experience as a planner was mostly in small communities in the western United States, with much of his work concentrating on growth management.

During his time in Williston, Nellis helped rewrite the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which received kudos for being well-organized and readable.

He is currently revising the town’s zoning ordinance and assembling an application to get state growth center status for the Taft Corners area. Nellis said a draft of the new zoning ordinance would be completed and the growth center application filed before he steps down.

McGuire said because Nellis came from a different region of the country, he had a unique perspective on the growing pains Williston has experienced over the past several years. Primarily through his work on the Comprehensive Plan, McGuire said Nellis will continue to influence the town for years to come.

“Lee’s experience had a very big impact on us,” McGuire said. “His input will be felt far in the future.”

McGuire said he would likely follow the procedure used to hire Nellis, narrowing down the initial applicants with telephone and in-person interviews, then conducting additional interviews before selecting someone to fill the position.

Nellis said his job, like many in the planning profession, was taxing, with long hours and an erratic schedule. But he added that there isn’t a better place in Vermont to work as a planner, both because of the top-notch town staff and the interesting challenges posed by Williston’s relatively rapid growth.

He said he would likely work in a planning-related position in his new home. But Nellis said at least for the immediate future he looks forward to just spending more time with his infant son and supporting his wife as she works toward her law degree.

“I’m sure I’ll find something to do that is equally complicated,” he said. “That seems to be my destiny.”

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