The players may be different, but the song remains the same for Mark Pomponi, who this month became Woolwich’s first director of development services.
An organizational review earlier this year saw the township divide the former engineering and planning services department into two parts. With the retirement in June of Dan Kennaley, Pomponi arrived from Brant County to head the planning aspects – planning issues, the building department and economic development and tourism. The engineering component, now infrastructure services, is now under the direction of Jared Puppe, an internal hire who was Woolwich’s acting manager of engineering.
Pomponi spent that past 16 years in Brant, most recently as general manager of development services, a role he says mirrors his new position in Woolwich.
“It’s exactly the same with the exception of economic development and tourism.”
He arrives in Woolwich as he did in Brant: hired by David Brenneman, who was director of community and development services in the County of Brant before arriving in 2007 to become Woolwich’s chief administrative officer.
“David hired me in Brant. We’ve kept in to touch, and I was always looking for an opportunity to work with David again,” said Pomponi.
Being familiar with his boss should help in the transition, he notes. While the planning issues will be similar, every municipality has its own unique population, history and culture with which to deal – getting to know them is part of settling into his new role.
A Hamilton native, his résumé includes previous stops in that city, Ancaster and Cambridge, the city he now calls home.
He’s been in the municipal planning field long enough to have seen its evolution over the past couple of decades, particularly the involvement of the province in local planning issues.
“There’s an increased provincial influence – they’re more involved,” said Pomponi. “There are more provincial policies that are mandated on local municipalities.”
Notably, the province requires higher densities and a greater variety of housing types, a blanket policy that does not spare rural or small municipalities that may have different outlooks from, say, Toronto or other urban centres.
While Premier Doug Ford is reviewing many of the restrictions added by the previous government, current policies such as the Places to Grow document have forced changes over the years.
While in Cambridge, for instance, Pomponi saw the average lot size drop dramatically when applications for new subdivisions came in.
“A 40-foot lot was a small lot; now you’re lucky to have a 40-foot lot,” he said by way of example.
Increased density, he notes, brings issues with traffic, parking, drainage and neighbourhood complaints. Municipalities then have to cope with those concerns.
There’s also a push for different forms of housing, particularly apartments and condos. He lands in Woolwich just as two controversial apartment projects are being proposed for Elmira, one on Church Street West and the other on Ernst Street, with neighbours unhappy with what’s proposed in both cases.
“The concerns aren’t unusual – they’re fairly typical,” he said, noting such infilling projects in existing neighbourhoods tend to draw the largest response from residents.
Equally controversial are gravel pit applications, a reality he’s no stranger to based on his previous role.
“Brant certainly had its share of gravel pits, with more coming,” he said.
Part of his transition into his new job will be getting a feel for how residents react to planning issues and how the municipality has traditionally dealt with such proposals.
Pomponi says he’s thankful for the experience of long-time senior planner Jeremy Vink and the help of John Scarfone, the former Woolwich manager of planning who retired last year, but who remains on in a part-time capacity.
“I certainly value the experience and knowledge that [they] bring. You can lean on them and draw on them.”
Brant has recently seen a plethora of development following many years of inactivity due to a lack of servicing, a situation that mirrors what happened in Woolwich more than a decade ago once sewer and water services became available after years of development being on hold.
Woolwich, however, has a slow-growth strategy, opting for a staging policy that Brant is now looking at, having previously opted against it.
“It’s a better way to manage it,” he said in praise of the township’s go-slow growth plan.
Now settling into his Woolwich role, Pomponi will be working to implement the changes suggested by the organization review, looking at the department’s processes and revenues.