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April 24, 2024

Hartford planning director stepping down on Friday

Contributed Erin Howard
Contributed Michael D'Amato

Erin Howard, who has served as Hartford’s interim planning director for more than a year, will step down from her post on Friday.

During a virtual meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission held Tuesday evening, the commission acknowledged Howard’s decision to resign and unanimously approved a resolution to appoint an acting “zoning administrator” who will begin serving in that role next Monday.

The commission appointed Michael D’Amato, a co-founder and principal with Vernon-based Tyche Planning and Policy Group, a planning and development consulting firm that works with many municipalities.

Howard joined the city in March 2019 as economic development director under former Mayor Luke Bronin. She arrived in Hartford after five years serving in the same role in Torrington. 

When the city’s former planning director, Aimee Chambers, resigned in February 2023 to take a similar position in Boston, Howard was appointed by Bronin to also serve in that role on an interim basis. 

She has a strong background in planning, having previously worked for local governments in Windsor, Middletown and Ellington. She also spent a few years in the private sector at Milone & MacBroom Inc., an engineering consulting firm in New Haven.

After Mayor Arunan Arulampalam was elected in November, his administration asked her to stay on as planning director until a permanent replacement could be hired. 

In an interview Wednesday morning with Hartford Business Journal, Howard said she has accepted a position with Grow America, a national nonprofit development organization. She will serve as director of its East Coast regional team.

“My passion really is economic development,” she said. “So, while I was grateful for the opportunity to be able to stay on with the administration to support the planning efforts in the city, I obviously was looking for other opportunities to get to do more of what I love to do, which is development.” 

She said she starts in her new role next week, so it was important to her to not leave the city’s planning department “in limbo.”

“I spent a good portion of the past month really just coming up with the plan that we saw last night, to really make sure that operations in the planning division can move forward without the leadership of a director in the interim.” 

Howard told the commission the resolution to appoint D’Amato was part of her efforts to “set everyone up for success.”

She explained that 95% of the applications received by the Planning and Zoning Department require only a staff review. “Only 5 percent come before the commission,” she said, while adding that the staff “is young and has a strong need to have technical experience.”

D’Amato appears to fit that bill. According to biographical information on his company’s website, he has a bachelor’s degree in geography with a concentration in urban planning from Central Connecticut State University, is certified as planner by the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is certified as a Connecticut inland wetland agent and is a certified zoning enforcement officer (CZEO).

Before co-founding Tyche, he worked for the towns of Berlin, Somers, and Newington, and was part of the Community Development Group at the engineering firm CME Associates Inc.

He currently serves as a consulting planner for several municipalities, including Willington, East Windsor, Ashford and Tolland. 

The resolution noted that the city hired Tyche Planning “due to staff concerns regarding plan review capacity, the departure of existing planning staff, and continued difficulties in filling positions in the Planning and Zoning Division,” and that D’Amato is a “leading consultant assisting” the division.

D'Amato said in an email to Hartford Business Journal that Tyche has been working for the city’s Planning Division for about a year. "The bulk of our work has been assisting with project and plan reviews that go before the Planning & Zoning Commission," he said. "I can say on behalf of our team we have thoroughly enjoyed working alongside Erin over the past year."

He added that as the city works to fill the planning director role, his focus will be "to ensure that there is a seamless transition to the new director once hired and to maintain a consistent level of service. I take this role and the responsibilities that come with it very seriously and look forward to the opportunity to continue our work with the city."

D’Amato will serve as zoning administrator, with the ability to sign permits, until a new planning director is hired, but Howard warned the commission to lower their expectations.

“I was the acting planning director for a solid year without being able to attract a new planning director,” she said.

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