Kate Lalley: Make a difference by imagining the future

Courtesy photo
Kate Lalley at Remarkable Rocks on Australia’s Kangaroo Island.

By PHYL NEWBECK

Shortly after Kate Lalley moved to Shelburne 15 years ago, VELCO unveiled a plan to install new utility poles on Shelburne Road.

Lalley was hired as an aesthetic consultant to help the town come up with ways to lessen the visual impact. Testifying as a witness at the Act 250 hearing, Lalley suggested that the lines should be buried along the railway.

“To my astonishment,” she said, “they agreed.”

That experience hooked Lalley on municipal work.

“I couldn’t believe what a difference I was able to make in the quality of life for my community,” she recalled.

Now 56, Lalley grew up in Washington D.C. Her undergraduate degree was in English and she discovered that her favorite works were highly structured ones such as Shakespeare’s plays, “Paradise Lost” and devotional poetry. That interest led her to take architecture and art history classes. She soon realized she was more interested in the spaces between buildings than the structures themselves. Her next step was a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Virginia, after which she started her own firm, Kate Lalley Landscape Design.

When Lalley and her family moved to Shelburne, she discovered her skills were not necessarily transferable.

“I quickly realized I had moved to a place where nobody cared about gardens the same way as in D.C. ,” she said. “And it’s a really short growing season.”

While Lalley adjusted to being in a car-dependent area, she studied the local flora and began to shift her focus. She applied for an open seat on the Bike and Pedestrian Paths Committee and 11 years ago she joined the Planning Commission. She has worked on a number of projects in that capacity and has devoted a good deal of effort to the Route 7 corridor. “Route 7 is my wheelhouse,” she said. “It produces seven times the tax revenue of the village.”

Lalley continues to run her eponymous landscape design firm but for the last seven years she has also worked part-time as the Westford zoning administrator.

“I hadn’t initially realized it,” she said “but it has given me street cred with planners. As a zoning administrator, I’ve acquired some gravitas, and it has given me a bird’s-eye view of what it takes to get a project done.”

Lalley also is a consultant with the Lamoille County Planning Commission which works with towns with a range of regulations in place: while Stowe has extensive bylaws, Wolcott for example has no zoning regulations.

“It’s a whole range of fascinating work,” she said.

Lalley’s Lamoille County projects have included brownfield renewal in the village of Johnson, wayfinding signage in Hyde Park, and a home elevation project in Jeffersonville to raise an iconic home out of the flood plain.

In her spare time, Lalley and her husband enjoy sailing and are happy to have a family-friendly environment to raise their three children. But she said she thinks there are aspects to Vermont that natives take for granted.

“In a big city it takes years and negotiating party politics to affect change,” she said. “One of the things I cherish about life here is that you can really make a difference. The fact that I care enough to show up is something people appreciate and that’s meaningful.”

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