Dover's city planning director talks about what she loves about her job and working for the future of the city of Dover.
If you wanted Ann Marie Townshend’s job, you’d have to combine some down to earth pragmatism with an ability to read tea leaves. As the city’s director of planning and community development, she’s responsible for ensuring Dover is both a pleasant and attractive place to live, and that it remains that way for years to come.
It’s not a job for everyone, but Townshend loves it.
Q Why do you need to be part realist and part idealist to be a city planner?
A You have to be able to see both the big picture and you have to be able to see beyond the black and white of the city code and what the code is there for. The code is a tool to direct growth. The idea isn’t just what’s in black and white, but the thinking behind it.
You need to be able to work with people on all sides of an issue: the public, who may not be very enthusiastic about certain things, and the developers. You have to be cognizant of the politics that surround issues without allowing politics to dominate.
Q You came to Dover as a planning intern working for DNREC. What attracted you to that kind of career?
A What really drove it for me was so many of the things that you hear people talk about, i.e., water quality, traffic, other quality of life issues, all come down to proper planning. You can’t address those issues unless you address them through planning. A managed pattern of growth protects the environment, reduces congestion and also provides for a healthier populace.
Q A major issue facing the city is revitalizing downtown; many seem to think it’s not feasible without major investments of cash, maybe more than some are willing to make. Do you think it’s feasible to try to bring back a downtown like Dover’s?
A It’s feasible, but it would not be the downtown it used to be with big department stores and such. Part of it is finding what will bring people downtown, finding the right balance of businesses.
Part of the big challenge is that there are a number of properties that have lacked routine maintenance and upgrades over the years; you may have a prospective business owner but they’ll look at a space and it requires so much investment they can’t make it work. Any start up is limited in the amount of capital they have and today it’s harder to find that capital.
Also, it’s easy to focus on things that haven’t gone well, but when you look at where we were 10 years ago and where we are now, there’s been improvement. You’ve got 33 West, Bel Boutique and the Center for Mental Wellness that have invested a significant amount of money. It doesn’t happen overnight, but things are turning around.
Q What’s your biggest concern when it comes to Dover’s growth overall?
A It’s different now than it was a year ago. We’ve got a number of projects that have started, but with the economy, they’re stalled. I’m concerned we may have a number of half-done projects that will be hard to get them to materialize in the way they were planned.
The two biggest criticisms we get are that we’re too pro-development and that we’re anti-development. The idea is, how do you strike a balance. The purpose is not to stop development, but to ensure it is consistent with the character of the city.
Q What do you like to do for fun, and what is it about you that would surprise people when they find out?
A I prefer to be with a small group. By nature, I’m actually an introvert. I’ve forced myself to become outgoing and sometimes outspoken, but on a social level, I like my family and close friends. In the last six months, I’ve taken to running. I love it; I never thought I would, but that’s where I find my peace and solitude.
Email Jeff Brown at email@example.com.