Alan Manoian resigning effective Dec. 1

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

TO LEAVE DEC. 1 — Bridgton's Economic and Community Development Directory Alan Manoian has submitted his resignation, effective Dec. 1.

Bridgton’s Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian is resigning, effective Dec. 1, in order to help care for his ailing mother in his hometown of Lowell, Mass.

Manoian submitted his resignation Tuesday to Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz, who said some of the many ongoing projects that Manoian had been spearheading may have to be put off for a bit as a result. Berkowitz, who described Manoian as a tireless professional and a “change agent” in the three years he’s been in Bridgton, will make a formal recommendation to the Board of Selectmen next Tuesday, Nov. 22, on project priorities and what role Manoian’s successor should have.

“Absolutely, it’s going to be hard to fill his shoes — he was involved with a lot of ongoing efforts,” Berkowitz said. But he added that he admires Manoian for making the decision to put his family before his career.

“It takes a special person to do that, and I think he is that special person.”

While Berkowitz said it was too soon to talk about job descriptions, he was clear that Bridgton needs an economic and community development director.

“We are dynamically involved in looking at form based codes,” as a result of Manoian’s expertise in that area, said Berkowitz, and “to stop that initiative is not serving our community well.”

Difficult decision

Manoian said his decision was a difficult one, considering that a few months ago he’d passed up a lucrative job offer in Nashua, N.H. because of his desire to complete work on what he called “rebuilding the structural foundations of Bridgton.” But his mother’s deteriorating health has been weighing heavily on his mind for some time now.

“My mother is almost 85 years old and is going through some very significant health issues,” he said. After Manoian’s father, a mailman, died just after his 12th birthday, his mother went to work full-time to support him and his older sister.

“My mother was our rock. She sacrificed for us, and now it’s my time to sacrifice for her,” said Manoian, 49, who will move back to the home he grew up in, where his mother has been living alone, to share caregiving responsibilities with his sister. “It was just the three of us, growing up. We’re very, very close.”

Manoian often joked when giving public presentations about his doting Armenian mother. “I need to be there (for her) at this critical point in her health, her life,” he said.

Manoian said he will be doing some form-based code consulting work around the New England region and will see how things develop. “I have some really promising consulting jobs,” he said.

His current projects in Bridgton, in partnership with town-appointed committees, include designing a new sewer system and new sidewalk system and implementing form-based codes as part of the process of updating the town’s comprehensive plan. Manoian also has worked hard to promote Bridgton’s history and bring in developers who saw the value in preserving the town’s New England character, especially in the downtown.

“I wish Bridgton continued success in all the important projects and efforts that we have embarked upon over the past three years; the future for Bridgton is really bright, and I thank all the good people of Bridgton,” Manoian said, in a prepared statement.

No one stays forever

Berkowitz said he wasn’t too surprised when Manoian gave him the news.

“In this business, I’m never surprised. The reality is, there’s many dynamic changes going on in Bridgton” as a result of Manoian’s efforts, he said, and “things are ever-changing. No one ever stays forever.”

Bridgton’s first economic and community development director, Charles Rutledge, helped the town secure guaranteed annual funding through the Community Development Block Grant program; its second director, Micah Niemy, helped implement those funds.

By the time Manoian was hired in October of 2008 — he currently makes $46,000 a year — Bridgton was well-positioned to begin to think about its long-term future, said Berkowitz.

“From his first day here, he has tirelessly provided a new philosophy and frame of reference” for residents, department heads, appointed and elected officials to consider, Berkowitz said. A case in point is form-based codes, a non-traditional approach to zoning that sets design standards to preserve a town’s character instead of focusing on prohibited uses. Manoian is the state’s only planner certified to teach form-based codes, and has given talks to many other Maine communities on the subject.

“Alan’s professional commitment served this community exceptionally well,” Berkowitz said. “He was a change agent, and he will be sorely missed.”

Mike Tarantino, chairman of the town’s Community Development Committee, agreed that Manoian’s new ideas, along with the energy and passion he showed in promoting them, were a catalyst for change in Bridgton — because they underscored the need to plan for the future.

“I think a lot of things were stagnant before he came. He was the catalytic body, helping to make it happen,” Tarantino said. “Did everybody love him? No, there were some areas where he was pretty controversial. I think he made people aware that Bridgton could really be something, as long as you’re willing to work at it.”

Manoian held walking tours through the downtown, its parks and even its cemeteries to help residents appreciate their own history. “He held a vision of what Bridgton is and could be,” Tarantino said.  “I’m sorry to see him go. He’s going to leave a hole.”

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