By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Planning Director Shanna Saunders tendered her resignation on Tuesday after accepting the position of planning director in the city of Somersworth.
"It was an opportunity that just came up," Saunders said yesterday, "and I decided to jump."
Saunders joined the Planning Department as assistant planner in April 2004 and in January 2005 was appointed Planning Director when Dawn Emerson left the position to work in Yarmouth, Maine. While attending the University of New Hampshire, where she earned a bachelor's degree in wetland conservation and a master's degree in resource economics, and she worked for the conservation commission in Rowley, Massachusetts, before coming to Laconia.
Saunders said that "getting the planning process on its feet" represented much of her work in the city. In what she described as "a team effort," she said, "I had a lot of help."
She explained that by coordinating the roles of the different departments — Department of Public Works, Fire Department and Laconia Water Works — through the technical review process has led to a more efficient planning process and improved the relationship between city officials and developers and property owners.
Likewise, Saunders said that placing code enforcement under the management and oversight of the Planning Department has been "a huge help and a positive thing." She said that because there "lots of crossovers" between the planning, inspection and enforcement functions, having them under one roof has improved the performance of them all.
Saunders pointed to the development of the downtown riverwalk as a significant achievement of her tenure, noting that the project was originally conceived in the 1980s and the first easement granted in 1996. She said will regret not shepherding this and other projects, like the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail and restoration of Weirs Beach, to completion.
Warren Hutchins, chairman of the Planning Board, could not be reached, but Steve Bogert, who has chaired the Zoning Board of Adjustment since 2003, said Saunders "has been an absolute enjoyment to work with." He said that at first he was shocked to receive the email announcing her resignation, but relieved was he read that she is leaving for another position.
"I learned a lot working her," he said. "Ten years is a long time and I'll miss her. I'm glad and honored to crossed paths with her and wish her well."
Saunders said while she will miss Laconia she will not miss the commute from her home in Madbury. During her time with the city, she raised a daughter, who is now a freshman at the University of Connecticut, and a son, now 8 years old, while driving an hour each way to and from work, often after meetings that ran late into the evening. At the same time, her husband commutes to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he works in information technology.
"I will enjoy leaving work, having dinner and then going back for a planning board meeting," Saunders said.
City Manager Scott Myers said that the job description for the position will be reviewed and upgraded as necessary before advertising for a successor. He acknowledged that with the process of updating the master plan underway "the timing could be better." However, he said that assistant planner Brandee Laughlin is familiar with the responsibilities, consultants are available and, in any event "there is always something going on."
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