When Doug Plowman started his new job as Monona city planner and assistant economic development director in April, it was a homecoming of sorts for him and his wife.
Lauren Plowman is originally from Illinois, and Doug Plowman earned a graduate certificate in real estate development and then a master’s degree in urban planning, both in 2015 from the University of Michigan.
“We wanted to put roots down,” Doug Plowman said. “D.C. is a really transient place. We were there pretty much four years; that’s a pretty good tenure for most people there.
“It’s a high turnover place. It’s an expensive place to live as well.”
Getting closer to Lauren Plowman’s family was another reason.
Doug Plowman was born and raised in the United Kingdom, and he and his wife regularly communicate with his family there. His father retired a year ago after working in Germany the past decade. His sister lives in London. Skype and social media allow for regular talks, and everyone visits the other country a couple times each year.
The Plowman recently purchased a home in Madison.
The two met at Swansea University in Wales, where Doug Plowman was studying for an undergraduate degree, and his future wife was studying abroad for a semester. They had a long-distance relationship for three years before Plowman was admitted to Michigan University.
“I wanted the experience of the American big school,” he said. “Michigan fit the bill for that.”
They were married in the summer of 2014, in between his two years at Michigan.
Just a few months later, he was recruited by a firm in the Washington, D.C., area.
“They were a real estate consulting firm, so they worked on a plethora of projects from public sector work with a lot of work out in Salt Lake City and Utah all the way to private developments, mixed use developments all across the country,” Plowman said.
The work included a mix of new development and redevelopment, from golf courses to apartment complexes.
“What I sort of learned as I was working through these projects – I was only on them three or four weeks at most; we have our assessment and then turned it over to the developers for them to proceed – I found myself wishing to see these things through to fruition,” he said.
After almost two years there, he left for a job as a planner for the Rosslyn (Virginia) Business Improvement District (BID).
The BID is a 17-block area with a high concentration of office space and plenty of redevelopment.
He was the only planner on a staff of 10.
When it came to return to the Midwest, he had the experience Monona city officials wanted in their next planner. Sonja Kruesel, who worked for the city for seven years, left for a similar post in Fitchburg in August 2018.
Plowman said the work done by Kruesel made his learning curve a little easier to manage. The precedents she had set and her file management system helped Plowman get up to speed on projects.
“I enjoy the difference in work there is here, from signage to the riverfront … to long-term planning,” he said.
City Administrator Bryan Gadow said Plowman has been a great addition to the staff at City Hall.
“He has become extremely knowledgeable about our zoning ordinance in such a short period of time and works to make connections with residents and business owners to help explain complex zoning matters in ways that everyone can understand,” Gadow said. “I am very excited to see him progress over time.”
Plowman said the land-locked city will face some challenges in redeveloping sites, but he also sees this as an opportunity.
“This is an established community,” he said. “That’s something that really attracted me here was … the civic pride that people have here. It’s really fantastic. It’s a great community that people want to come in to.”
Redevelopment may be a challenge, but developers are plugging into something greater than a vacant greenfield development.
Plowman said he sees more mixed use projects on the horizon, mostly because Monona can’t become home to an entirely new subdivision.
Mayor Mary O’Connor said the length of time of the vacancies at City Hall were worth it.
“When our former city administrator and planner/economic development director both resigned to take other positions last summer, I decided to wait to fill the planner position until we could see what experience a new administrator would bring to the table,” she said. “We hired Bryan Gadow as city administrator/economic development director in January.
“Now with Doug on board as the planner/assistant economic development director, we’ve got an experienced team in place to work on future development projects in Monona. So far, they’ve both been doing a great job. I think it was worth the wait.”
Plowman is excited about the bicycle and pedestrian plan for the city.
“Probably my biggest hobby is cycling. I race competitively as well,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of doing things by different modes.
“My wife and I are really active and just enjoy hiking, and being outdoors is certainly a big appeal for us.”
He’s also a big soccer fan.
As for his job, Plowman said he wants to become a known face at City Hall, not just the person on the other end of the phone with another form to complete.