BRUNSWICK — A local author whose book has become “required reading” in planning and development circles around the country will speak to the Brunswick Planning Board next week about “reclaiming highway strips and strengthening town centers,” according to Matt Panfil, director of planning and development.

Randall Arendt, author of “Rural by Design” and a former town planner himself, gives lectures across the country about creative development design as a conservation tool and about environmental, economic and attractive approaches to redevelopment. He has lectured all over the United States and Canada, but never in Brunswick, where he has lived for the past six years, he said Monday. 

Randall Arendt

“It’s good for the town to think about what’s possible” as it approaches development, Panfil said, and “how to get the most out of areas” as they are redeveloped.

For his part, Arendt has ideas and strategies for rebuilding highway corridors and areas like Cook’s Corner or Pleasant Street for commercial and mixed-use redevelopment that he will present to the planning board and public at 7 p.m. March 5 in the town council chambers.

The conversation will focus on successful examples from Northeastern towns similar in size to Brunswick. “Anyone can learn from what other people have done in other places,” he said, although noting that there is a great deal of good development already in Brunswick.

Arendt hopes his talk will spark interest in how future development could fit into the community even better than it already does. That’s not to say though that he is critical of Brunswick.


His presentation addresses topics such as replacing single-story, single-use commercial buildings with multi-story mixed-use buildings including residences, offices and retail spaces according to a presentation summary. Some second-story additions could include affordable housing above shops and offices, he suggested, and establishing minimum height standards would encourage this “vertical integration” of uses.

Arendt also suggests planting trees for shade, aesthetics and air quality in these areas, as well as the importance of using native species in landscaping for minimizing watering requirements but also capturing the “distinctive spirit of the place,” he wrote.

A few of the other ideas he will discuss in the presentation include setting buildings back further from the road, landscaped medians and roundabouts as traffic calming measures and setting standards for smaller signs that are more “monument style” rather than “tall pole-mounted designs,” he wrote.

The typical lifespan for most highway commercial buildings is 25 to 30 years, so communities “can position themselves now to guide the future replacement of existing structures” by starting the planning process now, he wrote. 

Brunswick is starting the process of revisiting its comprehensive plan, and Arendt said he suggests all planners, regardless of their towns, take note of his presentation and revisit developments they have recently approved to see if they have worked out as well as they had hoped.

Arendt does not usually present to communities as a whole, he said, but is doing so after many Brunswick officials had to miss a recent, smaller presentation in Topsham, Panfil said.

The presentation is expected to last about an hour, plus time for questions at the end.

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