After a three-month search, the town of Black Mountain has hired a new director of planning and development, Jessica Trotman.
The position opened up in May when Josh Harrold, director since 2014, left for a similar job in Lewisville. Prior to Harrold's arrival, the position had been vacant for three years, following the departure of Elizabeth Teague.
The search for Harrold's replacement was an immediate priority for town manager Matt Settlemyer.
"Black Mountain is a changing, growing and vibrant community," he said. "It's important to find the right fit for the position, because a planning director brings a skill set that we need here in town because it helps set us up for the future."
Trotman comes in at a time of significant growth in Black Mountain. Major development proposals on Blue Ridge Road and on Broadway Avenue downtown have generated significant discussions among residents and administrators about how Black Mountain should manage its growth. Property values are at record or near-record highs, while newcomers search, often in vain, for available, affordable housing. The planning director will no doubt be involved in the state’s plans for a new Interstate 40 interchange west of downtown.
Trotman stood out among the applicants because of her enthusiasm, Settlemyer said.
"Her passion for planning was evident when we interviewed Jessica," he said. "She cares about how communities develop, and she has an interest in responsible growth and addressing some of the concerns that we have here."
Last January Trotman was hired by Kings Mountain, a city of around 11,000 in the Charlotte Metropolitan Area, as its planning and economic development director. She had been town's city planner since March 2016.
Before that she was a regional planner with the Isothermal Planning & Development Commission, a regional counsel of governments for Cleveland, McDowell, Polk and Rutherford counties.
She embraces the challenges associated with her field.
"I'm a bit of a workaholic because I like what I do," she said. "I'm very lucky in that way."
Trotman received her bachelor's degree in humanities/sociology from UNC Greensboro and is a candidate for a master's degree in environmental health from East Carolina University.
"I was at a conference a few years ago and realized that health and planning intersect beautifully," she said. "Planning is a very applied practice of creating positive outcomes in many different ways, one of those being environmental health. So I decided to go to grad school."
She has also completed coursework in sustainability and environmental management from Harvard University and holds certifications in low-impact development and stormwater management.
Trotman discovered her fondness for planning in Greensboro while working on a climate action plan for the university.
"It's a very large school, probably close to 20,000 undergrads at this point," she said. "It was a lot like working in a town or small city. I really enjoyed the energy management side of things and working to solve problems with limited resources."
The position in Black Mountain allows Trotman the opportunity to focus on planning and development in a growing town where she can apply the knowledge she's accrued during her years in the field.
"It's a perfect fit," she said.
Trotman will continue work on projects started by her predecessor. Three projects related to decreasing the impact of stormwater runoff will be underway shortly, she said. The projects are funded by a through a 319 grant through the Environmental Protection Agency grant.
She plans to increase the level of engagement between the department and the community.
"My goal is to articulate the needs of the community and give the community the opportunity to articulate those needs," she said.
That approach resonated with Settlemyer.
"She's really able to reach out to people and put groups together and extract information from them," he said. "And those are things we've maybe not done as much as we would've liked in the past, but that I really want to emphasize going forward.
"And that's part of Jessica's visions of planning - getting all of the information she can get," he said. "She's very detail-oriented and meticulous about how she puts information together as part of her process, and that is going to be a real benefit to the town staff and to the board as they develop their vision going forward."
In the short-term, Trotman plans on getting to know Black Mountain by walking through town. That will help her develop an understanding of the community and its needs, she believes.
"Planners, so say our ethics, are often the educator, facilitator and communicator," she said. "A lot of my role is to do that around these really nebulous topics. You can't talk about development without talking about equality, or without talking about transportation, or access to schools, or any number of things. That's why so many things run through planning because it all works together."