Brunswick Comp Plan a top priority for new planning director

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BRUNSWICK — Even before he was hired as the director of planning and development, Matt Panfil knew Mid-Coast Maine was somewhere he wanted to live.

Panfil, a Chicago-area nativemost recently worked as the town planner in Vail, Colorado. But when he and his wife were looking to move east, he said the Brunswick area was one of their “preferred destinations.”

“When this job came up we were more than happy,” he said.

Panfil began his new position June 18. According to Human Resources Manager Jessica Factor, Panfil will be paid $82,400 a year.

After earning a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a master’s in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois, Panfil took the position in Colorado in January 2016. He also worked as a senior planner and a planner in two Illinois towns.

After long commutes and a desire to spend more time outdoors took them from Chicago to Colorado, Panfil said he and his wife wanted to live in a more affordable area and be closer to her family in upstate New York, which is what steered them toward Maine.

“It wasn’t random, it was a choice to start looking in this area,” he said.

And, though his new position is “a lot of responsibility,” he said it is also what he was looking for because he likes to feel challenged.

Panfil began the hiring process in Brunswick in January, which, he said, was “a long process but a good one” and confirmed the job would be right for him.

Some key tasks ahead of the Planning Department, he said, include updating the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which it is legally bound to do by 2020.

Updating the plan can take “up to two years,” and Panfil said it will soon become the “No. 1 issue” facing his department. Other prominent projects include working on amending the town’s zoning ordinance to make it conducive to homeless shelters in town. 

The Town Council put plans for a new Tedford shelter on hold in April with a 180-day moratorium after it became clear the new building would not be in compliance with the current ordinance.

Panfil said the issue of homeless shelter zoning is a “tough one” because it is an emotional topic for many people.

“It’s hard when I’m doing zoning regulations to acknowledge that it’s an emotional issue and a sensitive issue to people, and at the same time try to keep an objective approach to the regulation,” he said. “Zoning ordinances don’t mean anything until they apply to you.”

The Planning Department will also be looking at zoning for recreational marijuana, which Panfil said is another key issue for the town right now.

The Planning Board will give the public a chance to weigh in on marijuana at its next meeting Sept. 11. The town has a final 180-day moratorium on recreational marijuana stores, facilities, and social clubs and medical marijuana storefronts until November.

Progress on both topics, Panfil said, has good momentum.

Ultimately, he wants to be a resource for residents, and said they should feel comfortable asking questions at meetings or by stopping by his office.

His role as a planning and development director, Panfil added, includes “a little bit of everything.”

“I think one of our main roles is being sort of a conduit of information between the town manager, town council, (and) the public,” he said.  “I think it’s making sure everyone’s on the same page, or at the very least reading the same book.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Matt Panfil, a Chicago-area native who most recently worked as a town planner in Colorado, began his position as Brunswick’s director of planning and development June 18.

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