Planner Profile: Linda Johns
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Meet Linda Johns, Planning Director for the City of Brewer:
HOW MANY YEARS IN PLANNING PROFESSION?
I have enjoyed 30 years working in the land use and planning profession here in the beautiful state of Maine.
I have been the Planning Director (a.k.a. City Planner) for the City of Brewer for the past 15 years. The entire Brewer Planning Department is a one-person shop so I do a little of everything. On good fiscal years, I have the benefit of a part-time assistant.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND
I moved to Maine my freshman year of college and graduated with a B.S. degree in Forest Management from the University of Maine at Orono. As a newly Maine Licensed Forester, I planned to work on creating a new genetic variety of tree that would grow fast and have fiber superior for Maine’s manufacturing. Unfortunately, International Paper closed their forestry greenhouses months before my graduation and we all know what has now happened with the mills in Maine. As part of my studies at UMO (it will always be “UMO” to me), I was required to take land surveying courses. I accepted a job with Morton and Rose land surveyors and engineers in Limerick. Within my two years there, that firm merged with others to became SMRT and gave me a great learning experience which enabled me to acquire my Maine Professional Land Surveyor license. Wanting to move back to central Maine, I accepted a position at Plisga & Day Land Surveyors in Bangor. I continued to work there for 13 years not only performing all aspects of surveying but also consulting and preparing land use plans and applications. When the previous Brewer City Planner was taken by ambulance from a City Council meeting with a heart attack (no, planning isn’t a stressful job), I was asked to help out. After working both jobs for five months, I was hooked and accepted the full-time, permanent position with Brewer. I work with a great team of departments and enjoy going to work…. most days.
WHAT LED YOU INTO PLANNING?
I have always been an outdoor enthusiast and wanted to do my little part to make the world better. It is exciting and fulfilling to think that what I do can positively impact how development is handled, how people physically get from one point to another, how our elderly live, how our environment is improved, or how parks and trails make people smile. You know, that quality of life thing.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT PLANNING IN MAINE?
Planners in Maine often wear several hats, especially municipal planners in smaller communities. In a single day, I could work on transportation issues, the construction of a new building or use, ideas for a new open space, writing ordinance amendments, and meet with a landowner to answer questions. Never boring.
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
Helping landowners, developers, groups, and organizations to design and implement the best product which meets both their needs and the City’s, and benefits all. I am also fortunate to consult with local law firms and be involved with many regional organizations such as BACTS, Lower Penobscot Watershed Coalition, Heart of the Penobscot, Fields Pond Audubon, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and other local land trusts.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
I am very fortunate to truly enjoy the work I am doing and wouldn’t change a thing…except perhaps have more bodies in my department. It seems there is never enough time to get everything done as well as I would like.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR DREAM PROJECT – WHAT KIND OF PLANNING WORK WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MORE INVOLVED WITH?
I’ll tell you about two very different projects. Back in 2006, I initiated the Brewer Land Trust and am its President. With one of the BLT goals being to create more trails, there is a portion of unused rail bed in Brewer that would make an awesome rail trail. I am currently working with Pan Am Railways and Maine DOT in hopes of making this one happen, so keep your fingers crossed. My dream development project would be the creation or reuse of a beautiful building on our Brewer Riverwalk, energy efficient with shops and cafes on the first floor, residential on upper floors, marina docks into the river, and a sense of community not only among its residents, but also with those passing by.
WHAT IS YOUR NICHE OR MAIN EXPERTISE?
People have commented on my creative ways to solve problems. For instance, Brewer was left with several old school sites after building a new consolidated school for grades Pre-K through 8. The community wanted to keep the historic, brick middle school building but it was located in a dense residential area on a very small parcel of land. I ultimately prepared ordinance language which created our first floating zoning district, called Adaptive Reuse. This now allows a landowner to enter into a contract zone agreement if the parcel and project meet the eligibility requirements and the design standards of the floating zone. Happy to say Somerset Place is now a beautiful, elderly housing apartment building where some of the residents previously attended school! About six months ago, an advertisement on my Facebook page showed a sweatshirt with the saying “City Planner – we solve problems you didn’t know you had in ways you don’t understand”. I think that sums it up nicely.