County's new planning director has wealth of experience

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brent Butler, 46, has been selected to replace retiring Bonnie Sharp as the new director of the county's Growth and Development Office.

Butler had previously been working as the lead for the long-range planning division for Jefferson County in Washington.

He holds a chemistry degree from Williams College in Massachusetts, a masters in urban planning from the University of Washington, and a masters in design studies with a focus on the environment from Harvard University. He also has studied historic preservation, architecture and planning theory at a university in Germany.

Brent Butler has replaced Bonnie Sharp as the county's growth and development director.

While in graduate school he also did town planning with the county and borough of Juneau in Alaska, and during a brief period of his life when he wasn't involved in urban planning he also worked as a commercial fisherman. He nearly lost his life in that job, considered one of the most dangerous in the world, statistically, when the ship he was on sank in the Arctic Ocean.

Butler said his initial degree in chemistry and his work in environmental studies at Harvard have served him well as a planner, "because a lot of planning has to do with 'brownfield' sites," areas of environmental degradation. "I grew up in an area where all the oysters and salmon were gone. I love the outdoors, but you couldn't enjoy it."

Accepting the job in Elmore County, he said, was a logical progression of his career, from assistant and then associate planner to lead planner, senior planner and now director of planning.

He began working for Elmore County on April 15. Sharp was scheduled to retire at the end of that month, the two-week overlap allowing her to bring him up to speed on local issues.

But almost from the day he arrived, the county's lead planner left for another position, one of his other planners was hospitalized, and as a result, Sharp agreed to stay on through at least May to work for him, a move Butler said had been "extremely helpful" in helping him understand the issues he will be facing (one of the first hearings he attended was the nuclear plant rezone hearing).

Another major issue he will face is the proposals, expected to go forward and face public hearings this year, on the planned communities in the Mayfield area, which, if fully developed, would create a town in Elmore County larger than Mountain Home.

That may have been one of the factors that caused the county to hire him, since he had experience during his time in Washington directing county control over a similar 1,000-unit planned community (later scaled back to 800 units).

"I've had a chance to work on some fairly unusual development projects in my career," he said, citing several large redevelopment projects on which had had worked in both New York City (his home) and in Germany.

In his first few weeks he has buried himself in state law and the local zoning ordinances, and has been trying to learn the county as quickly as possible.

He said he hopes to bring his economic development expertise to his new job, and has a "very strong desire," to help develop and expand the county's job base by helping implement the economic objectives of the county's comprehensive plan.

He also said he is eager to meet with community leaders and local citizens "and learn from them," so he can do the best job possible helping Elmore County grow.

Butler is a bachelor. He intends to live in Glenns Ferry.

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