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GOOD JOB!/NEEDS WORK ... Turning a loss into a gain

Good job! The city lost 90 years of institutional memory — not to mention friendly service, good humor and exemplary dedication — over the past three months with the retirements of City Clerk Tammie Drake, City Attorney Sam Fritschner and Department of Development Assistance Susan Frady.

Ask Drake (31 years with the city) about the last time the city had parking meters on Main Street and she’d plunge into a thorough search that would produce minutes from 30 years ago on a City Council motion to remove the meters. Ask her about the election results from 1991 and she’d dig it up in a few minutes. Serving under four mayors, four city managers and 25 council members, Frady (33 years) worked her way up from office assistant to development assistance director, leading a recasting of the city’s planning and zoning apparatus to make it more business friendly and pro-active rather than punitive and reactive. Unable at times to resist a wry crack about the mystical aspects of the law as he offered legal advice on some thorny council dispute, Fritschner (26 years) guided the council through the thickets of eminent domain, construction bids, bond financing and public-private partnerships, including water plants and water line extensions, the Grey Hosiery Mill redevelopment, Main Street revitalization and the new police headquarters. All three will be missed.

Needs work … In a 3-2 vote, the city Planning Board this week recommended that the City Council reject a well thought-out and practical plan to build four single-family homes on seven-tenths of an acre on Chadwick Avenue. Sounds tight, yes, in a community where 2½ -acre estate lots in recent decades have been de rigueur. Urban planners today will tell you that lots of less than a quarter acre are common, and even desirable, especially for in-fill development and affordable housing, which the city should be trying to encourage. Well-meaning though they are, homeowners’ complaints are not always fact-based. “Dangerous traffic conditions” often belong in scare quotes because they’re either exaggerated or limited to short-lived rush hour peaks. As we learned while standing in the vacant lot waiting to make a picture of an approaching motor vehicle, Chadwick Avenue is actually lightly traveled most of the day and is no speedway. Here’s hoping the City Council rejects the Planning Board’s opinion and approves the homes — with the condition that the landowner address flooding and runoff issues.

Good job! Apropos of the first item, City Manager John Connet did not let a crisis go to waste — if Susan Frady’s retirement created a very temporary one. Instead, he seized the opportunity to merge the development assistance and Main Street departments into one — under the leadership of the very capable Lew Holloway. As a result, the city’s planning and zoning functions and its economic development guidance will be coordinated as one machine, protecting the public health and safety while encouraging responsible growth. Overused though it is, the phrase win-win applies here.