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C. J. Randall

Lansing has flirted with the idea of hiring a full time planner for years.  In 2014 the Town had a qualified candidate ready to go, but the Town Board voted not to hire him, which led to Planning Consultant Michael Long being hired on a part time basis.  Long shepherded a number of major projects in all parts of the town.  This year the Board decided the time is right, and in February voted to employ C.J. Randall to oversee the Codes office as Director of Planning.

"I've received an enormously gracious welcome from everybody - from Highway, the clerks, the Supervisor, the Town Board, the committees, planning board... you name it," she says. "The learning curve is a little more vertical than I had anticipated.  This job is so holistic.  there is almost no area of government that it doesn't touch in some way.  Lansing is 69.9 square miles.  It's a huge area to wrap your mind around... not just politically and environmentally, but specially.  How do things work here?  Where are things?  Who does what?  It's been super-fun, though. I am really enjoying the challenge."

Needing time to complete her consulting commitments, she began full time March 25th, and officially became full time May 25th.  The part-time stint was a benefit in that it provided a long transition period to help Randall get up to speed at a time when there are a lot of projects in the planning and construction stages in the town.

"We had a significant amount of transition time," she says."Mike walked me through a transition plan that he and Ed had set up ahead of time to fill me in on priority initiatives and projects.  There was a lot of great background information. He brings a wealth of experience, not just for Lansing, but for other places.  Getting to have overlap was super-helpful."

In her short time she has already made her mark on a number of projects, and on working with staff and committees including the Planning and Zoning Boards, the Agriculture Committee, and working on the current land use ordinance update proposed amendments to a town solar energy law, working with diverse town departments to devise a a five year capital improvement plan, and interacting with Tompkins County Planning Department, among other tasks.

"At the county a lot of interesting work is being done on watersheds; and ag planning in a broader sense like purchase of development rights; you have a soil and water conservation district that's doing really great work, applying for grants; a robust county planning department that's covering everything from housing to energy, even down to the Business Energy Advisor's Group," Randall says. "Then you have interesting things happening at the state level such as the Empire State Energy Hub and the conversion of the power plants.  So in some ways Lansing is at the epicenter of things that are happening in planning at a broad spectrum of levels.  To me that is incredibly exciting and inspiring."

Randall says this is a good time for a full time planner to come to Lansing, because a lot of interesting things are happening at the local, county, and state level to do with planning and grants.  She has been working with the county planning department to help establish South Lansing as a Census Designated Place (CDP).  If realized it will allow the collection of specific data starting in 2020 that will be searchable data so it can be used to get grants and have a clearer picture of what's going on in the town.  And she notes that the new Comprehensive Plan revision is very current, so her work can be guided by what townspeople have said they desire now for Lansing.

"That's one of the great things about working at the municipal level, the ability to shape the built environment as you see fit, to implement land use tools that really have an impact on the quality of people's lives," she says. "So you have a Planning Board that's seasoned, that has diverse viewpoints; you have an engaged Ag Committee that's really focused on agricultural and environmental issues, which I think is in some ways unusual, and also a really wonderful asset.  You have a town board that is a cross section of the community; and you now have a burgeoning Conservation Advisory Council that was just created in January.  That's just here at this level, so that's really exciting from the municipal perspective."

Lansing's previous administration favored a kind of top-down planning approach.  A Town Center Committee came up with a vision of the town center land across the street from the Town ball fields in South Lansing, and advocated building infrastructure to attract the right kind of development projects.  The current administration has taken a more evolutionary approach, doing what it can to facilitate developers when their projects are in sync with the Town's goals, especially as expressed in the Comprehensive Plan.

Randall talks about a holistic approach to planning, but finds merit in both approaches.  She says there are tools available to help prepare portions of the town for certain kinds of development, such as a revolving fund for infrastructure at 0% interest, and  resources to get sites 'shovel ready'.  The development that is taking place on the town center land actually does fall in line with the conclusions of the Town Center Committee.

"That way you're able to attract development in a way that is already prepared for the table that you've laid," she explains. "That said, I think this hybrid approach is working.  We'll see where the next proposals come from. I think the vision of Salt Point Brewery is in keeping with this current Town Board's vision to see what the community has to offer."

Randall grew up in Rochester, where her father worked for Kodak.  She says she was obsessed with music for most of her childhood, especially trumpet.  They moved to Lockport, and then to Long Island, where she graduated from high school.  She took a break before graduating from the University of Buffalo in journalism and biological sciences.  From there she went to Florida, where she had a job reporting for he South Florida Journal, a news-radio show.

"I was looking into why this area was about to build another mall," she says. "They were looking to site a huge regional mall just up the parkway from another mall.  I started asking around, meeting the Broward County Assessor and asking questions.  She had some really great insights for me.  I was totally overwhelmed and she suggested I talk to the folks at the planning department.  I didn't really understand the cultural and economic influences that had led south Florida to be developed in the way that it had been, vs. here.  I started to think about the migration from places like New York and Michigan and the mid-west.  I thought I need to go home.  I applied to Buffalo and Cornell for planning school and that was it."

She earned her master's degree in planning at Cornell, and was a partner in Randall + West, a consulting firm that specialized in a number of planning tasks, from comprehensive planning to very specific projects using form-based code.

Randall has worked as a municipal planner and consultant in Tompkins County and elsewhere.  Notably she worked on the Chain Works District in Ithaca, which would redevelop and rehabilitate the  about 800,000 square foot former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility to a mixed use residential, commercial, office, manufacturing, and a natural area.  The 95-acre district is in both the City and Town of Ithaca.  Among her contributions she worked on an introductory form-based code for the project.

"You had this former industrial site rising like the phoenix from the ashes," she says. "To be able to experience the revitalization of old industrial buildings whose time has come and gone to rise again is infinitely inspiring to me.  While I'm a proponent of new development, which, if done well, can be a real treasure for a community, revitalizing existing structures and properties that may have been forgotten or overlooked."

"Hopefully what I can bring here is helping people carry out their vision and keeping the high quality of life, and really high standards that people have here for public service," Randall says. "I hope that I can carry that on and support the activities of the other departments in a really holistic way."

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