Thursday August 02, 2018
After serving nearly two decades as South Burlington’s Administrative Officer, Ray Belair is ready to pass the torch. Known for his wealth of knowledge around city regulations and procedure as well as his fair and calm demeanor, since 2000, Belair has issued permits for 2,987 dwelling units, accounting for nearly one third of all of the homes in the city, according to planning and development records. In total, including his work in other city departments, Belair has served the citizens of South Burlington for 28 years.
Belair grew up in the Green Mountain State, in both Newport and White River Junction. After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1974 with a B.A. in Geography, Belair started his career working for the South Burlington Water Department. Following that, he accepted a position as the administrative officer for the Town of Hartford, Vermont. He returned to South Burlington in 1990 and assumed the role of the planning and zoning assistant. Finally, in 1999, Belair earned the title as the city’s administrative officer and was the main contact for permitting in the department as well as providing technical assistance to the South Burlington Development Review Board.
Bill Miller, chair of the development review board, recalls meeting Belair in 1995 for the first time while working on a building project for a non-profit on Farrell Street. Residents to the north needed relief from Shelburne Road cut-thru traffic as well as Rice Memorial High School traffic. “Ray was handling administrative duties at that point, and he handled all sides in the conflict with grace and firmness, explaining over and over again exactly what the city’s role and limitations were,” Miller said.
When Miller joined the development review board in 2012, Belair remained consistent in explaining the city’s capacities and limitations. “Ray has made a huge difference in improving the city’s development patterns because of his remarkable ability to do this over and over again. He can explain the role and limitations of the development review board with immense patience to anyone willing to listen,” Miller said. “This has meant that instead of turning away in anger and leaving South Burlington in frustration, developers have been able to build increasingly ‘smart’ projects throughout the city. Neighbors have benefited from developments that mitigate sprawl by encouraging concentrated development in areas that prevent the extension of costly infrastructure to far-out areas and create real neighborhoods that are safe and walkable and bike-able.”
Paul Conner, the director of planning and zoning, said, “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ray for 10 years and have always appreciated and relied upon his thoughtful approach to problem-solving, his commitment to his craft, and his commitment to providing clear, timely responses to the hundreds of questions he fields annually.” Connor adds, “I often hear from residents and businesses how much they’ve appreciated Ray walking them through the city’s regulations and how they’re always welcomed with a smile and invited to meet with them immediately to hear and address their questions.”
“As a citizen he’s a wonderful guy,” said Michael Mittag, a planning commissioner, during a meeting when Belair’s leave was announced. “He’s always so helpful to everybody who comes to him. For somebody walking up the street who needs information, he’s tremendously helpful and accessible.”
Belair has treated even appeals of the development review board (DRB) decisions with care by meticulously maintaining records and decisions. When the DRB lost cases on an appeal, the DRB could count on Blair to help “advise the board on when the next round of the appealed development would occur and provide the board with a clear list of restrictions and opportunities to improve the projects,” Miller said.
Board members have also attributed Belair’s work to awards made to the DRB. In 2015 at the 2015 Planning Awards, the Vermont Planners Association (VPA) presented the South Burlington Development Review Board with the 2015 Citizen Board Award.
“Ray has been the consummate professional, kindly and patiently guiding generations of DRB members in their civic duties on the Board,” Miller said.
“Ray has been a tremendous asset to the city. He is renowned throughout the region for his balanced, fair, and even-keeled approach to his work,” said Conner adding, “We wish Ray all the very best in his retirement and know that he’s leaving giant shoes to fill. His instant recall of the history of properties throughout the community is irreplaceable. And we’ll all miss his wry sense of humor.”
From Belair himself, the last day is just like the first: consistent, fair, and in the best interest of the city as outlined in the regulations. “I’ve enjoyed my time serving the residents of South Burlington these past 28 years. I’ve tried to be as helpful as I can to those seeking permits and attempted to be as fair and consistent in applying the Land Development Regulations.”