Peter Kane, assistant town administrator in Swampscott, was recently hired as the new town administrator in Whately.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

WHATELY — The Selectboard announced the hiring of S. Peter Kane, currently the assistant town administrator in Swampscott, to be Whately’s new town administrator.

Don’t call him Mr. Kane. He likes to be called Pete.

“I’m glad to be able to work in a community back home,” Kane said. “I’m from the Pioneer Valley [and] I just want the residents to know that … I want to be engaged as much as possible, to interact with the residents and the businesses.”

Kane’s happy to be in municipal government, a specific career path. While he acknowledges every job has joys and drawbacks, he has the seasoning to look at disagreements from more than one point of view. The goal is to see historical priorities and figure out what’s currently the best option.

“It’s very difficult to make everybody happy all the time,” Kane said. “How do you best meet, as much as possible, what the desire is, while also minimizing people feeling, well, I didn’t get my way here?”

The answer is to communicate why a resident’s desire is not appropriate at the current time. The second step is to figure out how to alleviate the concern, which may be valid and pressing.

One new idea Kane brings to Whately is that it might be better to keep the Center School rather than sell it. A non-profit tenant, artist studios, workspaces or some other use would keep the old building in the town’s ownership and under its control. Renting the space would create an income stream that could offset expenses associated with the structure, and then some.

Swampscott, Kane’s employer since 2011, offered many opportunities to learn about land use and the conversion of single family homes to multi-unit properties. He began as an urban planner, then put himself in ever more responsible organizational roles. Now, he’ll be able to direct efforts to preserve the wide open feel of a farming community.

“I’m really looking forward to helping the board and the community itself, finding ways to better support the services while also retaining that rural, agricultural environment,” Kane said. “There may still be need for development for … housing needs, but making sure they can balance that and still retain the rural aspect” is Kane’s priority.

A threat to that rural character may be the commonwealth’s insistence that municipalities change zoning bylaws to allow for battery storage for solar arrays. Kane hasn’t dealt with the state’s heavy-handed demands, but weighs the need to operate as a partner. Swampscott is a Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, or MBTA, community, which is now demanding significant changes to town bylaws to enable public transit.

The answer is to control what is under the town’s purview: the town’s bylaws.

“The modifications that I’m proposing to the zoning bylaw aren’t that impactful, or aren’t very different from what we already allow,” Kane said. “It’s just making sure we explicitly have the same language the commonwealth requires.”

Fresh out of college, Kane first went into marketing, which was unsatisfying. He enrolled in an architecture program, which helped clarify what he enjoys most: representing the municipal end of real estate, rather than designing structures. He changed his major to urban planning and now looks to deal amicably with Beacon Hill.
Kane had a great interview with the Selectboard. In his mid-40s, Kane liked much of what he saw Whately doing with solar energy and climate change protections. Flooding is more of a threat, even in the higher areas, off the floodplain.

“Whately’s done quite a bit already in terms of encouraging solar and PV … and has some sustainability measures,” Kane said. “With climate change, it means you have more stronger storms. Those stronger storms, there will be heavier rainfall, which will result in higher level rivers … and further inland, you will still see that flooding. So how do you mitigate those impacts?”

Kane, raised in Easthampton, won’t assume his new position in Whately until June. He anticipates dealing with the needs of residents and maintaining Whately’s character as an agrarian community.

“I’m really excited for the role,” Kane said. “I’m just really looking forward to helping the board and the community itself.”

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