Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


Emmitsburg Hires First Staff Planner

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post - (8/16/2003)

Michael Lucas doesn't have a plan for the town, but he's working on one.

Mr. Lucas began work Monday as Emmitsburg Town Government's first staff planner. At its Aug. 4 meeting, the town commissioners selected him from a field of three finalists. He starts with a $40,400 salary.

Mr. Lucas said that from a hospitality and geographic standpoint, Emmitsburg reminds him of Signal Mountain, Tenn. He grew up in that town, which is located near Chattanooga.

"I've always been fond of Emmitsburg," Mr. Lucas said. "When I looked for a home (nearby), I looked at this area and thought it would be a great place to live."

In hiring the 51-year-old Cascade resident, Emmitsburg got a man with extensive town planning experience. Through the state's Department of Economic and Community Development, he provided planning services for seven rural Tennessee towns and counties. He worked for towns with as few as 2,600 residents - roughly Emmitsburg's size - and counties with populations of about 50,000 people.

Mr. Lucas holds bachelor's degrees in history and political science from East Tennessee State University and a master's degree in public administration and public policy from the University of Tennessee. He also earned a master's of divinity degree from the University of the South in Sewanee, Ga., and served as a vicar for two Lutheran congregations in Newville, Pa.

The town previously used county planners, but Mayor Jim Hoover pushed to add a staff planner because of inconsistencies in town regulations. He successfully argued that someone should be hired to study zoning regulations and recommend changes to eliminate code contradictions.

"The updates that are needed are long-term," Mr. Hoover said. "It's probably a never-ending, continuing project."

To the mayor, Mr. Lucas stood out over other candidates because of his knowledge, experience and "customer-friendly attitude."

Mr. Lucas was hired just as the town's planning and zoning commission is considering two annexation requests and a rezoning application. He should participate in those discussions, but Jim Gugel, the Frederick County planner who regularly works with Emmitsburg, is expected to be the primary source of information for the town.

Soon, however, the mayor expects Mr. Lucas to be the town's primary planning information source, though Mr. Gugel's expertise will be available.

The town plan Mr. Lucas is working on isn't original. It's a revision of Emmitsburg's comprehensive plan, last updated in 1998. The town requires it to be updated every five to 20 years, and Mr. Lucas thinks now is an appropriate time.

"With the rapidity of change that's been going on in Frederick County in the last 20 years," he said, "five years seems like a reasonable window to update that plan. Every five years, it's reasonable to go back and look at the town's planning apparatus and consider the changes in the community."

As for his other duties, Mr. Lucas views his role as one of gathering and interpreting data and presenting options to the board and planning commission.

"They're the ones responsible for setting the vision of the community," he said. "The planner is a resource."

During debate over this year's budget, some residents questioned whether Emmitsburg needed a full-time planner. At that time, Mr. Hoover said the job would be full-time for up to a year but might become part-time.

On Thursday, however, his view was different. The mayor said the board never determined that such a transition should be made, and he thinks it might be a full-time position permanently.

"Right now, at least for the next year or two years, it must be full-time," Mr. Hoover said. "I'm not sure that there's going to be a switch. Only time's going to tell us that."

Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town Government