Making community better


Howard County planner enjoys her role in having a direct impact on the environment


Jill Farrar


Howard County government, Ellicott City

Salary : $50,000

Age : 31

Years on the job : One

How she got started: After getting an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and working for a New Jersey land conservancy, Farrar went on to earn a master's degree in geography and planning from Northern Arizona University. She worked as a planner in Arizona, relocating to Maryland last year when her husband transferred for a job. After putting in applications with several jurisdictions, she decided Howard County was a good fit.

Typical day: Farrar is one of about 15 planners who review development projects as they come into Howard County for approval. Much of her time is spent checking development plans to ensure they meet the county code. She works with several other county agencies to coordinate comments and determine any possible issues or conflicts.

Farrar also answers incoming calls and e-mail about development questions from builders, landowners and homeowners.

One day a week, she's assigned "planner of the day" duties, which means she works with people who come in with questions about subdivision regulations. The plans she works on can vary from a new single-family home to an apartment complex. "We prepare a whole package that has the comments of our division as well as comments from other agencies."

Land issues in Maryland: "There's a lot of infill development and redevelopment in Howard County versus a lot of first-time development of land in Arizona."

Conflicts: People aren't likely to get angry or disrespectful when discrepancies are found with plans, Farrar said.

But there are times when differences in opinion and interpretation of the county code occur. "At that point our job is to find a middle ground or to further clarify what we're looking for. There's a give and take with that, but they still need to comply with the code."

The good: Having a direct impact on the built environment. "To try and make the community better. You get to be a little bit creative and work with the consultants to shape" projects.

The bad: Meeting deadlines. Farrar said she often finds herself with multiple projects due on the same day.

Stay involved: Farrar advises people to know what's going on in their neighborhoods and to know what's planned for their community. "Once the bulldozers arrive, it's too late to fight a development or make any serious changes."

Future of planning: It's a trend that as more people share the same land area more rules are put in place. "The code has gotten a lot more strict over the past 20 to 30 years." Farrar also believes that people will continue to have an expanded role in the planning process.

Philosophy on the job: "Stay positive and bring a sense of teamwork."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest

Special to The Sun

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