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Incoming Planning Director: Montpelier Has “Unrealized Opportunities”

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by Carla Occaso
Montpelier’s new planning and development director, Michael Miller. Photo courtesy of Michael Miller.
Montpelier’s new planning and development director, Michael Miller. Photo courtesy of Michael Miller.

Montpelier’s newly named Planning & Development Director, Michael Miller, said he sees opportunities and challenges ahead for Vermont’s capital city. Montpelier City Manager William Fraser introduced Miller in a press release on April 18 that explained Miller was chosen from a pool of 27 candidates to replace former director Gwendolyn Hallsmith, who held the position from 2006 through 2013. “We have observed the great work Mike has done in Barre and we were delighted when he expressed interest in Montpelier,” Fraser stated. Miller will start on May 19.
Miller has served as the director of permitting, planning and inspection services for the city of Barre since 2008, and during that time he worked on multiple undertakings, not the least of which were helping downtown businesses survive what he calls “The Great Recession” and Barre’s Big Dig. Miller told The Bridge about some of his other significant projects.
Miller helped secure the money to rebuild the city block that now houses City Place—the newly-minted home to the Vermont Agency of Education and other tenants. “That was the site of a vacant blighted building when I arrived, and I identified it as a key location for redevelopment,” Miller said. He explained that he applied for Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds of $700,000 to purchase the properties and demolish the buildings to lay the groundwork for putting up a new structure. After tropical storm Irene gave Barre lemons, Miller worked with the city’s officials to make lemonade by getting several projects done. The creation of City Place stands out as the one in which he played the biggest role. “It was very rewarding to see the building open this spring,” he stated. But Miller does not claim credit for himself regarding any of the recent renaissance activities. Instead, Miller claims that everything he has done has been in collaboration with the city manager, mayor and other municipal department heads.
Before working in city government, Miller worked for seven years at Lamoille County Planning Commission in Morrisville as the senior land use planner. He also ran a consulting company part-time.
But for now, he is setting his sights on Montpelier. Miller said he is ready to follow up on existing project plans in order to bring them to fruition. “My skills and talents are in helping communities realize their visions. I emphasize constructing and completing projects as opposed to just making plans to fill shelves,” he said. Montpelier has plenty of ventures bubbling beneath the surface, including economic development, affordable housing, flood hazards, a zoning update, downtown parking and the master plan update.
“When I looked at Montpelier I saw a community in great shape but with many unrealized opportunities. I think the pieces are all in Montpelier just waiting for someone to help put them together,” Miller stated. Further, Miller said growing jobs, boosting the downtown and building affordable housing “aren’t impossible to achieve but will require a clear path to get there. That potential is why I chose Montpelier.” He noted that one of the best things about Montpelier is its residents. He said he realizes he will be working with a very “engaged citizenry.” In fact, according to Miller, one of the bigger challenges of the job may well be balancing differing views of some very active citizens.
As for saying “goodbye” to Barre, Miller said he will miss all the friends he made who persevered with him through economic and natural disasters. Sticking together through those years with colleagues and associates led to a camaraderie among those who believed in making Barre a better place.
Miller lives in East Hardwick with his wife, Sarah, who runs their mini-farm. She is a sixth generation Vermonter who adopts rescued animals such as goats and sheep. Mike grew up in Colchester, Connecticut, but came to Vermont 18 years ago to attend the University of Vermont.

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