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New Alpena city planner gets her feet wet

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz New Alpena Planning and Development Director Andrea Kares was busy getting settled into her new position on Monday.

ALPENA — It has taken about nine months, but Alpena’s new planning and development director spent her first day on the job Monday.

Andrea Kares has been in Alpena for about two weeks, getting acclimated to her new home and learning more about what it has to offer, what it needs, and what its assets and weaknesses are.

Now, she is eager to work with others to help grow Alpena and the surrounding area.

Kares replaces Adam Poll, who in March was hired to lead the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kares said she was raised and went to school in Allegan, graduated from Grand Valley State University, and then moved to Redmond, Washington for a job. She served as a permit technician for the city and was later promoted to assistant planner and then associate planner.

Washington state was one of the first areas in the country where the coronavirus began to spread. As the pandemic worsened, Kares decided to move back to Michigan to be closer to her family.

She began to look for employment opportunities in the planning field, and that is when she found out about the open position in Alpena and decided to apply.

“I was too far from my family and people were beginning to get sick, and I decided I just wanted to move back to the area to be close to my family,” she said. “The thought of one of them getting sick and, with the shutdown, it was just very scary for me, so I moved back here, where I’m close enough to visit.”

Kares said she used to visit Alpena years ago, when her family owned a cabin at Long Lake. She said Alpena is a great fit for her, because it has the natural resources she needs to do the things she likes.

“I really missed Lake Michigan and the beaches when I was in Washington,” she said. “My boyfriend and I have always been a big fan of hiking and trails and things like that, and there are a ton of them here. I love that there are tons of beaches and parks, and we have a puppy, so we love that there is a dog park.

When Kares learned she had gotten the job, she began to do some homework about Alpena. She said she read through the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances. She’s still learning more about the area and how that all fits into her work, she said.

“I’m going through things and highlighting things that I find interesting,” Kares said. “The comprehensive plan was really key, because it does talk about the history of Alpena, what we have here, and what we like to do. It also gave me an idea of what the demographics are.”

Because she is still getting adjusted to her job and the area, Kares will likely count on other city staff to help her get settled. She said she is excited to work with groups like the Alpena Downtown Development Authority, Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Chamber.

“As the planner I will be on boards for some of those community partners and community organizations,” she said. “I’m excited to go to those meetings and hear the information and to be able to share the ideas I have. It is important to build those relationships, especially in a community the size of this one.”

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