Walking out the door of the Building Department office in the town hall on April 13 was bittersweet for retiring Community Development Director Fran Armentano and all the staff who have interacted with him for the past 32 years. Right-hand man to the town manager, procurer of grants, integral advisor to the Planning and Zoning and Development Commissions and always willing and able to step in wherever help was needed, his absence will be greatly felt by many.
Although not a Granby native, Armentano’s early life was not far removed geographically from our rural community. He was born to a large Italian family in the South End of Hartford and lived in a block surrounded by 24 first cousins. After graduating from Bulkeley High School, he attended the University of Connecticut where he earned a degree in political science while working at the Manchester Shop Rite. He knew from the start that he wanted to work in public service.
The job market was tight in 1978, but Armentano was able to take advantage of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) instituted by the Reagan administration and got a job as assistant town planner in Vernon. He proved to be a valuable employee and the CETA-funded position became a permanent town position.
In Vernon, Armentano’s first task was to work with a volunteer board to write the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. Soon, he was working with the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Conservation Commission and the Economic Development Commission. After three years, his title was changed to Economic Development Coordinator.
In 1986, he learned of a job opening for a town planner in Granby. Then Town Manager Bill Smith offered him the job at lunch in the Old Oak Tavern, and thus began his career as Granby’s Community Development Director.
During his tenure, he oversaw the development of 45 new subdivisions, from Aster Lane to Windy Hill — 11 with private streets, 34 with public. Multifamily development was minimal until Armentano’s arrival, but now there is Chatsworth Village, Copper Brook, The Gables, Greenway Village, Hunt Glen, Ridgewood, Salmon Brook Apartments and the addition to Stony Hill Village.
Just as extensive is the new or renovated commercial construction that has taken place during his tenure. The list numbers over 40, including such major works as the Stop and Shop Plaza, the YMCA, MeadowBrook Nursing Home, and the businesses on Mill Pond Drive. No doubt your bank, your dentist and your doctors here in Granby are located in buildings in which Armentano had a hand.
Initiating and preparing grants has been one of Armentano’s greatest gifts to the town. Over $6 million has come its way thanks to his hard work. Money from STEAP (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has lead to renovation at Holcomb Farm, Bank Street lighting, the new center sidewalks, a generator for the middle school, and the re-location of Canton Road, to name just a few. Successful Small Cities Funding, a program initiated and developed by Armentano, was responsible for sidewalks, the Holcomb Farm CSA barn, ADA improvements in the town hall, the Granby Senior/Youth Center, Salmon Brook Elderly Housing and Stony Hill Village. Over the years, using this program, he obtained over $1.7 million to help people of low to moderate income fix up their homes, particularly with an eye to renovations that made it possible for the elderly to remain in those homes instead of relocating to facilities.
When asked of what he is most proud, Armentano replied that it isn’t any one project, but the vision of the overall development of the town, preserving as much land as possible, keeping development in the center with water, sewer and gas, and maintaining the rural character as you move away from the center. The latter is enhanced by zoning where density decreases as you move out from Rte. 10/202.
He also mentioned a particularly pleasing outcome of a visit he made to the high school during the planning stages of the Stop and Shop plaza. Formerly the site of Steven’s Chevrolet, the potential development was not popular with some residents. Armentano, who was for the development, and others who were opposed, were invited by a Granby Memorial High School social studies teacher to explain the controversial situation. The students were so taken by the need for this project that they showed up at the next public hearing with charts and maps and a very sophisticated explanation of why they were in favor of it. Eventually, it was approved.
When Armentano thinks back over the 32 years of his career, he is amazed by the changes in technology. There weren’t even cell phones when he started, and now the computer has made so much more possible. For example, the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is an amazing digital platform that makes visualizing development in a way beyond the imagination in 1979.
Armentano plans to stay in town and to remain involved in the community. He will continue his ongoing 16 years as a board member of the Granby Land Trust, stewarding the Mary Edwards property on Mountain Road. He is looking forward to having more time for gardening, working around the house and on cars, as well as his more athletic pursuits of biking, hiking, running and snowshoeing. His wife Lori, who he met on a blind date in 1983 and married in 1987, is also retiring from her teaching job here in Granby, so there will definitely be more trips to visit family. Daughter Tahlia is married and lives in Albany with three children. Daniel is married and lives in Durango, Colorado, where he works in the planning department of the town government. He and his wife are expecting their first child. David lives in Simsbury and works at the The Hartford.
What Fran Armentano has meant to Granby
Town Manager John Ward noted what an essential part of town government Armentano has been. “It is clear to me in my short time working with Fran that he has performed his duties with care, competency and passion. The town is far better off as a result of his efforts. I am sorry to see him go.”
Former Town Manager Bill Smith praised Armentano not only for his dedication to his job, but also for always being available to help out wherever needed, for example, assisting with emergency management during and after serious storm events. “Fran did what is usually done by outside consultants,” Smith said, “saving the town considerable expense.” Smith also referred to Armentano’s connections with local and state officials, and knowing what federal agencies could help the town. “He always knew just who to contact.” Smith made special notice of Armentano’s superior grant-writing skills, and also his organizational talents. “He was instrumental in planning the office of engineering, the scope of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, and was essential to the Planning and Zoning and the Development Commissions.”
Planning and Zoning Chair Paula Johnson noted that Armentano is a man of many hats. “As Director of Community Development, he has helped the town grow gracefully, balancing our rural flavor with the need for economic development. His grasp of town and state regulations and his presentations to the P and Z and the public has been pivotal in decision-making. The last three Plans of Development were written by Armentano along with a committee of residents.” Johnson also noted that in addition to all his work-related talents, he’s a great pancake chef for the Senior Center men’s breakfasts.
Land Trust President Rick Orluk remarked that Granby has been very fortunate to have Armentano serve its public interest for these 32 years. “Working collaboratively with town leadership, his service has been marked by a combined commitment to smart development and thoughtful land preservation. His expertise, experience and open-mindedness have time and again benefited Granby citizens. We thank him for helping to build the special community that Granby is today: forward-focused, with the capacity to meet future needs, but also true to its rural roots.”
The late Bud Murtha was involved in Granby government. He became good friends with Armentano and worked closely with him for many years as the chair of the Development Commission. The following quote from a letter he sent Armentano a couple of decades ago pretty much sums up what everyone has noted. “After watching you in action up close and in public for well over ten years, I have to greatly admire your many virtues as a town employee and Granby citizen. You are a go-to guy in practically everything town hall related and Granby civic life in general. Most importantly, you seem to do it willingly, without complaint about work overload and without whining. Your grasp of our town and state regulations and your explanations to the P & Z members and in public meetings is outstanding. Also, your talents don’t seem to stop at the end of the work day: Land Trust activity, making breakfast in the senior center or being dunked for a good cause are all done with a smile. I hope you keep doing what you are doing in and for Granby as long as we have more to do, which is probably a long time from now.”