Friday, June 22, 2007

Hailey planning director to step down

Express Staff Writer

Express file photo Hailey City Planner Kathy Grotto announced her retirement this week. She will leave her position with the city on July 27 to work for Benchmark Associates, a Wood River Valley engineering and planning firm.

Hailey city officials are lamenting the impending loss of their planning director, Kathy Grotto.

Grotto announced her resignation on Monday, June 18, after accepting a position with Benchmark Associates, a Wood River Valley engineering and planning firm with offices in Ketchum and Hailey. Grotto said she will stay at her post with the city for another six weeks to help effect a smooth transition to her replacement.

While the search for a successor has yet to begin, her colleagues said Grotto set a very high standard during her seven years with the city.

"She's leaving some pretty big shoes to fill," said Hailey Councilwoman Carol Brown, who also worked closely with Grotto during Brown's tenure as chairwoman of the Planning and Zoning Commission. "Kathy sees the big picture and has the ability to apply it with specific detail."

Grotto had two and a half years of city planning experience working for Ketchum previous to taking her current job in 2000. During her time as head of the Planning Department, she gained the respect and admiration of both P&Z commissioners and City Council members, coming to be known for her professional approach and work ethic.

"I've relied heavily on her extensive knowledge of every nuance of our city's ordinances," said City Attorney Ned Williamson. "She alone does the work of multiple people, so I'm not sure what Hailey is going to do without her."

Brown also commended Grotto for taking on work-intensive projects, including efforts in the past year to create the Townsite Overlay District and rewrite design guidelines to preserve the character of Old Hailey. Grotto agreed that the latter was one of her most rewarding projects, especially due to the large amount of public input she received to help give direction.

"I hope that I have made some lasting contributions on behalf of the Planning Department," Grotto stated in her resignation announcement. "Some of the work of which I am most proud includes ordinances for the city that provide park land dedication and for community housing."

Mayor Susan McBryant, who said she counts Grotto among her good friends, said that Grotto's work was anything but easy.

"She's probably getting a little burned out or frustrated working in city planning for so long," McBryant said.

Grotto acknowledged that her long tenure played a role in her decision to leave the public sector.

"There are a lot of situations with this job when you have to say 'no' to people, and it can be very tiring to do so," Grotto said. "But, it's also been fun."

However, she cited intellectual curiosity as the main impetus for her departure.

"I've been thinking about moving on for about a year and a half," Grotto said. "I didn't want to become stagnate—I like to learn new things and be challenged."

While Grotto says she was very excited when the opportunity to work at Benchmark arose, the decision to leave was not easy.

"I have a lot invested in this job," Grotto said. "I've lived in Hailey for twelve years and love this town."

Hailey, in the meantime, has until July 27 to find a new planning director.

"It would be a mistake to try and replace Kathy with someone exactly like her," McBryant said. "She has her own style. With her, there was great clarity and ease to follow."

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