County beefs up its busy planning department

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HANCOCK COUNTY — The county has added a new planning official to help keep up with all of its development.

Larry Strange started as deputy director of the Hancock County Planning Department on Monday, bringing a background in both the public and private sectors.

“I was pretty excited about having the opportunity to deal with fairly rapid development-type of issues, because it just involves a lot of coordination, and I think what we do is very important to the long-term benefit of the community,” Strange said.

The Muncie resident has spent the majority of his career in the private sector providing community and transportation consulting. He’s certified through the American Institute of Certified Planners, founded the consulting firm Mp2planning and served as executive director of the Grant County Area Plan Commission for four years. He also worked for the The Corradino Group, a firm that provides engineering, planning, infrastructure and environmental services with offices across the country.

“I’ve done a wide range of this stuff,” Strange said.

He added he’s attracted to the development issues Hancock County is facing as a surge of development continues across what was mostly farmland.

“How do you best balance all that along with economic development and the need to keep things moving forward?” he said. “It’s a hard challenge and not one person can do it all, but I’m happy to have the opportunity to help a little bit.”

Strange also said he enjoys the diversity of planning work.

“Every day it seems like it’s a different challenge,” he said. “It’s not all cookie-cutter, there’s a lot of gray, and it challenges you to think but you also have to be empathetic to the people that are involved. We all live in these communities, whether it’s your community or my community.”

He sees his role as an impartial data-supplier.

“I think my job is to provide the best information I can to the planning director and other various boards and commissions so they can make the best decisions that they were either hired or elected to make,” Strange said. “I certainly have my own opinions, but at the end of the day, the elected officials are the ones charged with the public, and my charge, I believe, is to get them the best information I can, whether it’s a solar farm, or manufacturing facility, or new highway, or whatever, so that when they’re faced with these challenging decisions, they have the best information available.”

Mike Dale, executive director of the county’s planning department, said he’s known Strange for years and has seen him often at planning conferences.

“He’s very well known in planning circles, he’s very seasoned, he’s been a planner longer than I have,” Dale said.

The Hancock County Council arranged the funding for the new deputy planning director position in the county’s budget.

Bill Bolander, a member of the county council and Hancock County Plan Commission, said the additional employee is much needed.

“I think that we realized that Mike was somewhat overwhelmed with all the growth that was happening and he needed some help, and so we approved to get another person,” Bolander said.

Revenue received by the county’s planning and building departments exceeded $1 million for the first time last year, driven mostly by the slew of new large warehousing/distribution facilities along or near the Mt. Comfort Corridor.

“According to Mike the guy’s really well qualified,” Bolander said of Strange. “So it should be a help to Mike and it appears at this position he’s somebody that can hit the ground running.”