MARYSVILLE – Jeff Thomas is taking over as city planning director at a time of tremendous residential and commercial growth.
He has experience dealing with that in his two previous jobs – as planning director first in Bellingham and then Sammamish.
Two areas he will focus on in Marysville are bringing commercial businesses to the Cascade Industrial Center and multi-use developments to the waterfront and downtown areas. He worked on exactly those types of projects with the port and waterfront district in Bellingham.
The waterfront had been closed to the public because of logging. When that went by the wayside he was involved in bringing living wages to town and setting up a mixed-use urban village plan.
He also was involved in the renewal of Fairhaven, which years ago was dilapidated, he said. He worked with business owners and neighbors asking what they wanted to be. They set up design standards to keep that historical feel and also planned for housing to give it a true mixed-use feel with new residents, he said.
Thomas said the same thing can be done downtown here.
“We can make this something really great,” he said. “A place where people can come and dine and be entertained.”
Thomas said he knows the community is concerned about fast growth clogging up roads. But he wants to remind everyone that there was gridlock before the growth for a variety of reasons, including trains running through town. He said progress is already being made on that with the Highway 529 ramps coming off and on I-5.
However, he did say if people want to be involved in managing growth they need to take part in the Comprehensive Plan process in 2023. The last one was done in 2015.
“Where is it you want to go in the next twenty years?” he said, adding that plan sets targets for population and commerce.
He admitted it can be frustrating for communities because it can seem like infrastructure is not in place to handle growth. However it is fees collected from developers that help build things like roundabouts to deal with added traffic.
“It’s not perfect,” he said of the process. “Some times you have to re-calibrate. It’s a fine line.”
Thomas said communities need to use online, surveys, focus groups and other tools to reach out to the community to get them involved in the process.
He said he wanted to come here for a number of reasons, including being closer to his family in Bellingham and having some interesting projects and challenges in the works, such as the Civic Campus and the CIC.
While customer service improved a lot under previous planning director Dave Koenig, Thomas wants to do even better.
“There’s a lot of technology out there that can help us help ourselves,” he said.