Marion's new Town Planner gets the green light

By Andrea Ray | Jul 19, 2017
Photo by: Jennifer Heshion Silvershell Beach - one of Hilario's skills, which will be in considerable use, is sustainable coastal management.

Marion — Gil Hilario might love sailing the ocean blue, but his life is devoted to being green.

Marion's new part-time town planner spent several years working for the planning office of East Providence, where he found a passion for environmental planning, balancing community developing grants with projects such as developing bike trails. He became particularly interested in the idea of coastal management planning while in East Providence.

Coastal planning is meant to address ocean and water management and advance economic development and conservation. Hilario said he particularly enjoyed the coastal management aspect of planning, and hoped to continue with it as a town planner.

Now, he'll have that chance. Hilario is well-versed in GIS (Geographic Information Systems), something he says will be useful for all aspects of Marion's town government. GIS is a spatial analysis system that can show any number of graphic data points, laid out on a map, he explained. It can map anything from the number of bicycle crashes per area, to the levels erosion by the sea over the years. That last use, he noted, will be particularly useful in any seaside towns like Marion in the future. Marion, alongside all other coastal towns, is facing rising sea levels; the ability to track how much ground is being lost will be essential to help the town assess the dangers of, and solutions for, rising tides.

The use of GIS is also helpful for any towns looking for grant funding. "While it's not absolutely essential," Hilario explained, "the most prepared towns generally submit GIS imaging with their grant applications. It's a useful way of explaining and visualizing what is happening, using concrete data. Towns who use it in their grant applications are much more likely to get funding."

According to Hilario, one of his main duties as the town planner will be to know Marion's Master Plan backwards and forwards, and speak for it during the planning process of new projects.

The Master Plan, according to Marion's town website, is a "long term policy document that helps the community manage growth and change, preserve its natural resources, maintain public facilities and services, protect property rights, and build upon its strong character." Essentially it is the town's list of goals and requirements for future town development.

"Some towns write a Master Plan, and then it gets left by the wayside as new projects develop," he explained. "One of my responsibilities is to make sure anyone with a project includes as many of the Master Plan elements as possible."

Hilario is still learning about Marion, but he says one of the most important general points for its future is to balance town development with traditional character. "We want development in Marion to capture a sense of place," he said. "We need to balance development and preservation with the things that town residents cherish."

When the Pawtucket, RI resident isn't in the town planner's office, he can probably be found outside, whether he's among green trees or diving beneath dark waters. The enthusiastic scuba diver noted that he has always had a passion for the outdoors and nature.

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