Planning Director Bourbonnais Leaves Job

by | Nov 11, 2021

Twenty-seven years of institutional knowledge walked out of the Planning Department last Friday with the departure of Town Planner Lisa Bourbonnais. She left with little fanfare, “which was truly Lisa’s style to her approach to public service,” noted Town Manager Andy Nota.

The Planning Department oversees all development in town as well as special projects such as parking or waterfront studies. It also staffs several board and commissions (Zoning, Planning, Historic District, Affordable Housing). Yet, most people in town barely know it’s there (until a new development is proposed nearby!). Partly that’s Bourbonnais’s decidedly low key style – under her tenure Planning was the “no drama” department. But her knowledge of East Greenwich and planning in general shone through everything she did.

“Lisa has proven herself to be a professional planner at the highest level who took her role in planning work for the community very seriously, in committing to transition the town in a seamless way,” Nota said.

In looking back over her years in East Greenwich, Bourbonnais said it was her work on Main Street that meant the most. 

“When [then-Town Planner] Vin Murray hired me all those years ago, part of what I was hired to do was to revitalize Main Street. It had an above-20-percent vacancy rate and the buildings were decrepit,” she said. “We were trying to start a real Main Street revitalization program and do some economic development and get the storefronts done over. I wrote a lot of grants and got a lot of money to be locally matched – to improve signs and facades and keep businesses open and do job retention. It really breathed new life into Main Street.”

She added, “That was stuff I could see a result on the ground a year later and feel really good about it. Those were good days.”

More recently, under Bourbonnais’s leadership – she led the department for 10 years – the town has expanded its open land acquisitions. But, she acknowledged, many of the projects that fall to the Planning Department take years to see through to fruition. Tangible successes can be nice.

Town Council President Mark Schwager met Bourbonnais during the 1990s, after he moved to town and was named, first, to the Land Trust, then to the Planning Board, before finally running for Town Council. 

“She was very helpful in setting the direction for Boesch Farm,” Schwager recalled about the 90-acre farm on South Road that the town was able to purchase with grants she was instrumental in getting. 

“As a person, she’s very attentive to detail. She was always well prepared,” he said. “She knew the projects but she was also able to put them into perspective – offering the larger picture of how a project would impact the town.” 

On a personal note, he said, “She was also very patient with me, giving me a lot of time whenever I asked her questions.”

When considering Bourbonnais’s impact, Schwager said, “She really oversaw the transition for us from a small town to what I call a modern town.”

Bourbonnais herself said the best part of her job was the people with whom she worked. “The vast majority of people I have worked with over 27 years are true public servants. They are committed to public service and they work really hard for a bigger purpose and a bigger good. It energized me for a long time.”

She added, “I will miss this group.”

Bourbonnais has taken a job as faculty senate coordinator at the University of Rhode Island. URI’s gain is EG’s loss but she did work for the town for more than a quarter century. There are only a handful of town employees who have worked for the town longer. Deputy Town Planner Lea Hitchen has been named interim town planner. The search is on for a permanent replacement.

Best of luck to you, Lisa. Thanks and happy trails. 

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8 Comments

  1. Bill Stone

    Lisa was the town’s secret weapon and probably had more impact on EG than any other single person over the last 20+ years. It was a privilege to work with her, both as a member of the Planning Board and on the Town Council. EG owes her a big debt of gratitude. If someone were to be awarded a “key to the town,” I’d say you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more deserving than Lisa.

    Reply
  2. Mike Donegan

    Lisa is a true professional and we will miss her talents, dedication and leadership. Her contributions to our community are truly immeasurable. I was privileged to work with her in my years on the Planning Board and now on the Town Council and appreciate all she has done for us. URI is lucky to get her and I wish her all the best in this next chapter of her professional life! She is simply the best! [I note that this is my personal statement and not that of the Town Council].

    Reply
  3. Len iannuccilli

    Lisa is truly an expert in her field.
    Thoughtful in her advice and consistent with her guidance. When a new development idea was in consideration the first step was always have Lisa share her opinion. If it was a bad idea she’d tell you so. If it was a good one you could count on her to help bring it to fruition.
    We will surely miss her. Fortunately she has left us in steady hands with Leah and Aaron .
    Best of luck to you Lisa

    Reply
  4. David Osborne

    Thanks Lisa for all of your excellent work to make East Greenwich a vibrant and livable community. Truly an unsung public servant!

    Reply
  5. Janet KENNEY

    As a newbie to Rhode Island 20 years ago, Lisa helped me navigate the CDBG grant system and was ever so patient with me! I wish her all the best! Janet Kenney, London Bridge Learning Center

    Reply
  6. Caryn Core

    Lisa’s intelligence, institutional knowledge and calm disposition will be missed. I wish her much happiness in her new position.

    Reply
  7. Jay

    Between Lisa, Cathy, and Wendy we’ve lost a lot of good people snd experience the last year or so.
    Somebody handcuff Joe to his desk, please 🙂

    Reply
  8. Gene Dumas

    Wonderful, friendly, hard working, and SMART! Best wishes in all your future activities!

    Reply

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