Person of the Week
Carey Duques: Planning Ahead
The Town of Essex has a new head for a new Planning & Zoning Department, Carey Duques. (Photo courtesy of Carey Duques )
When you are new to a job, you want to start to recognize familiar faces. Carey Duques, however, has learned to recognize half faces.
Carey, the new head of the Planning & Zoning Department in Essex, has been on the job since the beginning of February, but she and all her colleagues at Essex Town Hall have been wearing masks, so she has the kind of conundrum that would never have occurred if it were not for COVID-19: Will she recognize everybody once COVID precautions are finally lifted and she sees entire faces?
Carey is not only new to Essex Town Hall; the department she heads is also new. The town has merged the Planning and Zoning departments, which used to be separate entities, into one unit.
Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman explained that because there is relatively little land left that can be developed in Essex, the planning commission has had progressively less to do.
“There was a lack of activity; it was really a necessity for efficiency. The combination makes sense,” Needleman says.
He pointed out that many area towns have the two functions combined into one commission. He had been anxious to propose the new arrangement, but the pandemic got in the way of making the change sooner.
“There has been no negative feedback,” he adds.
“It makes sense for there to be one commission wearing both hats,” Carey says, pointing out the present structure means that one commission can address both long-range and immediate issues.
Carey, who also oversees land use and wetlands, will attend commission meetings but not as a voting member. She will provide professional expertise and guidance on regulations.
Carey comes to Essex from the Town of North Branford, where she was the town planner as well as the zoning administrator and wetlands enforcement officer for the past 6 ½ years. Prior to that, she had worked in the field of planning and environment regulation for both Medford and Salem, Massachusetts. She has also worked in private consulting.
She prefers the municipal work to consulting.
“When you are a consultant, often you are not seeing the project through to the end; you might just be hired for grant writing. I like to see a project through,” she says.
Carey grew up in a historic house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She says that the historic homes in Essex were among the things that drew her to the community—that and the Connecticut River.
“The river was a huge draw,” she says.
Growing up, Carey first became interested in town planning when she noticed that there was far more development of commercial structures in her town than in surrounding communities. She later learned that her town at been designated a growth area, with the idea that doing so protected neighboring areas from development.
At the University of Vermont, Carey majored in environmental studies and political science and went on to get a master’s degree in urban environmental policy at Tufts University. Despite her credentials, she says that over the years in the positions she has had, when people come to speak to the planning or zoning officer, they sometimes have assumed that she must be a secretary of the department.
Planning and zoning is one of the commissions involved in the permitting process for new construction as well as additions and renovations. Carey notes that permit seekers are sometimes surprised by the amount of information they need to provide on applications.
“That is the most common problem; people start out just not knowing what they need,” she says.
Sometimes in an attempt to speed things up, people provide partial information with the idea they will provide the rest later. Actually, Carey says that tends to slow the process down, rather than speed it up.
“It is better to get the permitting process done all at once, not piecemeal,” she advises.
The Essex Economic Development Commission has prepared a trifold brochure on the permitting and what is needed to help applicants through the process.
Planning and zoning, Carey points out, involves not only site approval and construction permitting but also areas of current general interest renewable energy and the need for affordable housing, the latter often discussed using the acronym ALICE: assets limited, income constrained, employed. Affordable housing, Carey says, is now often referred to as workforce housing.
Winter snow and a new job mean that Carey has had to cut back on her early morning runs; now only one or two times a week. In 2019, she ran the New York City Marathon as a fundraiser for friends with a young son who has Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic condition. Her run raised money for research on the disease.
A chip in her runner’s bib meant that friends and family who attended the marathon could follow her as she ran; at eight miles she saw her family.
“I couldn’t believe I had so many more miles to go,” she says.
At 22 miles she saw the young boy whose condition had inspired her run.
“I was exhausted by then, but I knew I could do four more miles,” she recalls
When she finished, she thought she was finished running marathons, not just on that day but for good. Lately, however, she has begun to reconsider.
“Up until a year ago I thought I would never do it again, but I have changed. I could see doing it,” she says.
At Essex Town Hall, Carey is finding there can be confusion between her and another town employee with a similar sounding first name, Kerry Berardinelli, but people have found way to keep them straight.
“Carey with a C or Kerry with a K,” she says.