Having an eye for art helped Michael Davolio focus on La Conner as his latest stop in a lengthy planning career that has seen him address land use issues on both coasts. 

A native of central Massachusetts, Davolio has come out of semi-retirement in Bellingham to succeed Marianne Manville-Ailles as the Town’s planning director. He took part in the Jan. 9 Town Council and Jan. 16 Planning Commission Zoom meetings and has spent a couple days setting up his office at Town Hall. 

So far, it has been a good fit for Davolio.

A frequent visitor here, Davolio doubles as a commercial photographer and has created a calendar for Whatcom County. He has volunteered with the Washington Center for Performing Arts and previously oversaw a month-long arts festival in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where he also guided an agency designed to attract new businesses to the city. 

“One of the things that drew me to La Conner,” he told the Weekly News, “was its great arts tradition.” 

Davolio knows successfully navigating the various layers of planning jurisdiction in La Conner – from shoreline management to historical preservation – can be something of an art form in itself. 

“I want to help the community manage growth in a responsible way,” he said. 

It is a challenge he has faced elsewhere on what has been a cross-country journey sparked by a college urban geography course. 

“It was then,” Davolio recalled, “that I first got hooked on planning.” 

He was working in Maine when that state adopted growth management legislation. That was an ideal prerequisite for his move to Washington state, which was then developing its own law to curb uncoordinated and unplanned growth that deemed threats to environmental protection and sustainable economic development. 

His familiarity with growth management and related land use issues increased demand for Davolio in the state. He has worked for communities between Long Beach on the coast and Spokane at the heart of the Inland Empire. 

Interestingly, Davolio sees similarities between La Conner, a tourist destination with a scenic waterfront, and Pullman, home to Washington State University and surrounded by rolling hills and wheat fields. 

Both, he notes, have avoided sprawl into nearby farmland, either due to planning priorities or economic factors. 

Davolio has long made his mark in Washington. In 2001 he was recipient of the state chapter of the American Planning Association’s second-ever distinguished service award. 

Davolio had partially retired after a stint in Langley in late 2015 but was ready to get back in the game when he learned last month of the La Conner vacancy. 

“I was finding retirement boring,” he said. 

Davolio anticipates his La Conner assignment being anything but boring. He has relied on Manville-Ailles to help him hit the ground running. 

“Marianne has been a godsend to me in terms of having everything organized for me to make the transition easier,” Davolio said. 

Davolio will work two days a week – likely Tuesday and Thursday – at Town Hall. 

“I hope to help build on the community’s strengths,” he said. “I believe one of the strengths of the community is how the town has preserved its history. The historical preservation district not only has value, (but) it creates value.” 

Manville-Ailles is completing her move to a position with the City of Mount Vernon after three years in La Conner, a period that has included a major overhaul of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and oversight of in-fill development of several vacant residential lots. 

She had expected to turn over her duties here to Concrete planner Kevin Cricchio, but he withdrew because family health issues precluded him from serving both roles. 

Davolio’s availability was a stroke of good fortune, Mayor Ramon Hayes said. 

“Marianne calls him ‘the planner’s planner,’” he said. “We’re just grateful we have a new planner on board who, like Marianne, has a lot of experience in the field.”