Looking out over the Burlington waterfront Thursday afternoon, Peter Owens recalled his years in the mid-1980s as "a bright-eyed twenty-something" working as a young urban designer in the Queen City. Bernie Sanders was mayor, the Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) was brand new, and Owens was helping to plan the city's revitalization.
"At that point, this was all vacant wasteland," Owens said, pointing from the Burlington Boathouse toward the now-bustling waterfront.
Owens was in town nearly three decades later for Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger's announcement that he'd tapped Owens to lead CEDO, the city agency responsible for a broad swath of the mayor's agenda — including continuing the revitalizaiton of the city's lakeside property.
Calling Owens "a collaborator and listener who's committed to building community," Weinberger said the urban designer from Hanover, N.H., would be charged with restoring CEDO to a role as "think tank and innovator." The mayor said he's hoping the city council will confirm Owen to the $90,000-a-year position at its June 25 meeting with a start date of July 9. In the meantime, outgoing CEDO director Larry Kupferman, whose reappointment Weinberger declined to consider, will remain on the job.
Owens grew up in West Hartford, Conn. He holds a degree from Middlebury College and a Ph.D. in environmental planning and urban design from the University of California, Berkeley. After his time in Burlington in the mid-80s, Owens moved to the Bay Area and worked as an urban designer, eventually becoming a senior planner with the Presidio Trust. He and his family moved to the Upper Valley in 2002, where he now serves as a principal at his wife's landscape architecture and planning firm.
Weinberger first met his nominee when the future mayor was presenting a development project to the Hanover Planning Commission, on which Owens serves, though the two do not know each other well. Owens was recommended to Weinberger by several mutual friends, the mayor said.
Owens, who has two high school-aged children, plans to rent an apartment in Burlington to comply with the city's residency requirement for department heads, though his family will remain in the Upper Valley.
Owens called his new gig "a dream job" in which he would work for "a dream mayor."
"I love this city. I'm not bullshitting," he said. "It's deeply engrained in my psyche."
Photos: Top right: Owens (l) and Weinberger (r). Above left: The mayor's team walking toward the Burlington Boathouse.