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November 8, 2012 - 2:59pm

Newly appointed planner says county's future will depend on smart growth

posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, county planning.

Felipe Oltramari is becoming director of planning for Genesee County at a potentially very interesting time.

It's a time when trends nationally are changing and a time when the county could be on the verge of unprecedented growth.

Oltramari's appointment was approved by the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday and will be official once it's approved by the full legislature next week.

The 36-year-old native of Chile takes over for Jim Duval, who went to work for the planning department 1976, the year Oltramari was born (Duval became director in 2000). Oltramari worked for Duval for 10 years and said Duval did a fantastic job of running the department.

"If I can do half the job he did, I’ll be a very successful planner," Oltramari said.

Oltramari moved to the United States when he was 12 after his mother married a Kodak employee. He graduated from Irondequoit High School and then got a bachelor's degree from SUNY Geneseo in biology with a concentration in environmental science. After earning his master's in 2002 in environmental land planning from SUNY ESF (Environmental Science and Forestry, near Syracuse), he went to work in Genesee County's planning department.

"I'm looking forward to leading the department," Oltramari said. "We have a great staff. Holly McAllister and Jill Babinski have both always done a great job for county residents."

With the early success of the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park and the STAMP proposal in Alabama, the county planning department -- which acts as technical assistance and advisory for town and village planners -- could become very busy in the next few years.

Helping to managing growth, planning it intelligently and protecting natural resources will part of Oltramari's duties.

"One of the things the county has to keep in mind is we have great natural resources," Oltramari said.

Chief among those resoures is great farming soils, Oltramari said. while only about 8 percent of the Earth's surface has prime farm soils, Genesee County is about 50 percent prime farm soils.

So much good soil is even more valuable when you consider the water availability in this region.

"That’s one thing that makes us a bread basket for our state, and our country at one point," Oltramari said. "That’s one thing that we have to remember, how to manage and take care of our resources and not take it for granted."

One way to do that is through what's known as new urbanism, or planning around form rather than use.

"Before we worried about factories next to homes," Oltramari said. "But now the factory might be in China and things get assembled and shipped here. The global economy has changed the way local economies work. I think one of the things we'll see is people worrying less about what the use is next door and instead worry about how it looks and sits next their property, how it relates to their property."

Oltramari is looking at trends in places like Miami and Denver, and even Buffalo, to plan growth around tighter clusters of mixed-use development, where homes are more neighborhood friendly and shopping and work are close by.

Such developments help save space, and can help protect farm land.

Unlike places such as Clarence and Williamsville, which has already been through periods of sprawling growth, Genesee County has an opportunity to manage its growth in a way that better preserves resources and promotes community.

"If we grow in a smart way, don’t waste space, treat it like we should, we'll be a successful county," Oltramari said.

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