Portsmouth losing one-two planning punch

Town Planner Gary Crosby retiring at end of fiscal year, while Assistant Planner Michael Asciola leaves for new job

By Jim McGaw
Posted 4/4/22

PORTSMOUTH — Gary Crosby, who as town planner has been the key figure in guiding Portsmouth’s growth and development over the past 18 years, is retiring at the end of the fiscal …

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Portsmouth losing one-two planning punch

Town Planner Gary Crosby retiring at end of fiscal year, while Assistant Planner Michael Asciola leaves for new job

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Gary Crosby, who as town planner has been the key figure in guiding Portsmouth’s growth and development over the past 18 years, is retiring at the end of the fiscal year.

“After 18 years, I think it’s time to go,” Crosby said last week. “I’m not leaving under any kind of circumstances. I’m 71 years old and it’s time to retire.”

IN OTHER NEWS: Portsmouth breezes through rest of Comprehensive Plan

He’s not the only member of the Planning Department the town is losing. Assistant Planner Michael Asciola, in fact, worked his last day on Friday and is taking a city planner position in Dover, N.H.

“Both Mike and Gary will be missed,” Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. told the Town Council last week, adding he’s working with the Human Resources Department to seek applicants to fill two very big shoes.

When asked the accomplishment of which he’s most proud, Crosby didn’t hesitate.

“The Comprehensive Community Plan (CCP),” he said during a chat in his second-floor office at Town Hall. “That was my major goal, to get that accomplished. I wanted to do it right. I’m going to be working right up until the very end.”

Development of the CCP, which guides the town’s growth and development over the next 20 years, was a long and arduous process — the culmination of resident surveys and data-gathering exercises, the Citizens Interested in the Comprehensive Community Planning Process Committee, the Planning Board, and town staff, including members of the Planning Department who led the overall effort.

The draft CCP, which the Town Council finished reviewing during the third night of a public hearing on Monday (the entire plan goes to a formal vote on Monday, April 11), is a complete re-write of the current plan approved in 2002.

Crosby’s fingerprints are all over it.

“I like to say when it’s being reviewed and critiqued that there’s no real pride of authorship here. I was responsible for producing a draft, but I am proud of the work,” Crosby said.

There’s been little public comment or input on the CCP, which Crosby said could be interpreted two ways.

“Either nobody cares, or I hit a home run — that there isn’t much in there to critique,” he said.

He slyly added, “I’ve got a few little things in there that no one seems to be catching yet.”

Did he care to elaborate?

“No,” Crosby said with a chuckle.

Other highlights 

Besides the CCP, Crosby said he was also proud of getting the town’s Hazard Mitigation Plan updated (2018) as well as a Wastewater Management Plan and Wastewater Ordinance approved (2015).

“Getting that wastewater business settled and heading into the right direction is probably my most successful accomplishment apart from the comp plan,” said Crosby.

The wastewater plan was developed in response to a notice of violation the state issued to the town regarding outdated cesspools and failing septic systems that were deemed a major source of pollution. It included the establishment of a low-interest loan program so that residential property owners could repair or replace failing cesspools and septic systems.

Crosby said grant-writing has also been a major component of the job. 

“I joke that I don’t really get to do a lot of planning; it’s mostly public administration,” he said. “I’ve been really quite successful in grant-writing. In fact, I just got word yesterday that we got another one from Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank — $140,000 to redo some inland flooding problems on Riverside Street in Island Park and Founder’s Brook. That I’ll be handing off to my successor.” 

Brian Woodhead, director of the Department of Public Works, said Crosby’s efforts in administering grants have been invaluable for his department.

“Gary’s a big help on our end because of all these grants we have,” Woodhead said. “Gary does all the administrative work on the grants, and all the followups. Our department oversees the grants, but Gary does a lot of the paperwork, and that’s a huge part of it.”

Retirement plans

Crosby said he’s not sure about his immediate retirement plans.

“I like to tell a story about my father, who retired when he was 55,” he said. “He was with the Southern California Edison company for 35 years. He retired early and kind of floundered around for five, six, eight years — not really knowing what he wanted to do. And then he decided to build a boat, and I think it saved his life, or extended his life because it gave him some focus. I’ll probably pick up some sort of a project like that eventually.”

Crosby and his wife, Judy, already have a boat — a 30-foot Catalina — which they plan on using more. Although they’re not going anywhere right away, they’ve talked about moving to South County to be closer to their 6-year-old grandson. Crosby has two sons: Robin, who works for Schneider Electric in South County (his wife teaches at Portsmouth High School); and Robin, who lives in Pittsburgh and is the Henry J. Heinz II director of Carnegie Museum of Art in that city.

Since he gave the town ample notice, Crosby expects he will have time to train his successor before he leaves Town Hall. “We’re going to have some kind of a mind-meld,” he said, adding he’s informed Rainer of his availability after June 30 if needed.

2022 by East Bay Media Group

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.