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Grand Lake: Planner comes aboard just in time for historical district survey

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Tonya Bina/Sky-Hi Daily NewsAbbi Jo Wittman is the new planner for the town of Grand Lake.
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Before Abbi Jo Wittman accepted the position as Grand Lake’s new town planner, she was told the village is “very much like Northern Exposure,” she said.

That’s just fine for her; the north is where she feels at home.

The Minnesota native grew up on a fifth-generation farm where she lived in the same home in which her grandfather was raised.

When her grandfather married, he built a home next door to his parents, where Wittman’s father was raised.

Wittman’s home is Warren, Minn., near Grand Forks, N.D., just 60 miles from the Canadian border.

She went to college at the Minnesota State University, St. Cloud, achieving her bachelor of arts in community development.

After an internship with Benton County’s Department of Development in Foley, Minn. outside St. Cloud, Wittman got the chance to work in Jacksonville, Ore., in a position that concentrated on historic designation.

About five miles west of Medford, Ore., Wittman worked on long-range historic preservation projects and programs.

Jacksonville had a historic landmark district for the entire community even before the Landmark District Act officially passed in 1966, she said.

The mining town was once the northernmost area of the California Gold Rush, a town that boomed in the 1840s and 1850s.

“Now it’s become a western leader in preservation,” Wittman said.

With the landmark designation, there are over 300 designated structures, and streetscapes and signage that complement the buildings.

Wittman was the first full-time employee who worked solely on the historic aspect of the town; it was something she had great interest in.

During college, she had signed up for a minor in historic preservation during her undergraduate studies, but the professor who was in charge of the minor left the university and the subject dissolved.

Wittman discovered the planner opening in Grand Lake on the American Planning Association Web site.

During a trip to Colorado with friends, an opportunity arose to visit Grand Lake and interview for the position.

“I liked (the town) very much,” she said. “It reminded me of Jacksonville. It’s very quaint. I could see the historic character and how the community has been driving to preserve that historic character.”

Her arrival is timely. Last night, the town board took its first step toward considering Grand Lake as an historic designated district.

Board members voted in favor to support the town Grand Lake Design Review Committee in its efforts toward achieving a grant from the State Historical Fund to conduct an official survey of 40 buildings in the downtown. The town pledged an expenditure of $12,000 for the survey, with $10,500 to be recouped through the grant.

Yesterday during her first day at work, Wittman was studying the town’s master plan as well as zoning and subdivision regulations, getting herself up to speed on land use guidelines.

“Those are what will guide my work,” she said.

Wittman looks forward to cross country skiing, snowshoeing and summer hiking.

“I’m excited to be here,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place and I’m looking forward to meeting members of the community and establishing myself here.”

She also hopes to “include some of the vision of the community to continue to preserve its historic character,” she said. “I’ll be working with agencies on promoting and preserving the environmental features and recreational opportunities as well as planning for the physical development that is occurring and continues to occur as the community grows.”

” To contact Tonya Bina, 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.


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