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New senior planner busy with city work
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Michelle Larsen, the city of Covington's new senior planner, has some ambitious goals for the city. Among her goals is finding a way to maintain the city's Southern charm amidst a wave of economic development.

"I would like to see, that as we grow as a town, that we do it in a sustainable way so we're taking into consideration how the city will be used by future generations," Larsen said.

Larsen was hired by the city in June as part of Planning and Zoning Director Shelly Stiebling's efforts to tighten the city's planning codes to be ready for a wave of development city officials believe is inevitable.

As senior planner Larsen said she does a lot of research for the city on grants and zoning enforcement issues, writing staff reports and site plans.

"Since Shelly came on board, it seems more development is coming to the city," Larsen said. "It became obvious to her that someone needed to take up more of the research aspects."

Larsen earned her Masters of Science in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech after completing her undergraduate degree at Capitol University in Columbus, Ohio where she grew up. Prior to working for the city, Larsen worked for a private consultant in Atlanta and a land developer in Columbus.

"I wanted to have a career where I was improving people's lives, taking a piece of land and creating a neighborhood," said Larsen of what attracted her to the field of city planning in the first place. "As opposed to social work and fixing people, I wanted to fix places.

Improving the city's "walkability" and making sure that there are connections between new developments and the city's heart - it's square - are important to Larsen, who enjoys walking to work for the city from her apartment on Emory Street.

"I love it," said Larsen of Covington's small town charm. "It's really nice to have a sense of familiarity."

She is currently working on a grant application to address sub-standard housing in the city. If the city is awarded the grant from the University of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, it would allow the city to assemble a community housing team made up of council members, nonprofits and developers, to brainstorm solutions to bring some of the city's housing up to par.

Larsen assisted during the last stages of the city's overhaul of its zoning ordinance, making sure that the city was in line with other Georgia communities and that the goals of the ordinance were achievable. She will soon begin tackling the city's subdivision regulations, which the city would like to see revised along form-based lines.