The City Plan Commission wasn’t going to let Karyn GIlvarg leave without at least a plaque and a flood of tributes to honor her more than two decades of guiding New Haven’s development.
Gilvarg, who has served as New Haven’s City Plan Department chief since 1994, attended her last meeting of the commission Wednesday night before her planned retirement next month. She has helped guide deliberations on every development proposal large and small, and every evaluation of zoning and comprehensive plan rules, that comes before the city. A font of institutional knowledge with a professional and respectful demeanor, she has served without drama under mayors from Biagio DiLieto to John DeStefano and Toni Harp.
Commissioners passed a resolution recognizing how her work has preserved neighborhoods and advance a vision for land use in the city. They presented a plaque.
And they took turns offering personal tribute.
Commission Chairman Ed Mattison joked that he had to take a couple of stiff drinks to handle the news that Gilvarg will retire next month. He didn’t really drink, but the news was a big surprise to him.
“I’ve been on this commission for nine years and I have relied so totally on her advice and good sense and pointing me in the right direction, arguing with me when it was needed and whatever, and it’s just for me an overwhelming change,” he said Wednesday night.
Commissioner Leslie Radcliffe, whom Gilvarg referred to the commission, said the news of Gilvarg’s retirement left her a little speechless.
“You are truly going to be missed,” she said. “I relied on you a lot also and being able to just call you with questions about anything is and was greatly appreciated. Your referral of me to serve on this board was really astounding and appreciated by me and I just don’t know what we’re going to do.
“We’re going to do well because you trained us well,” Radcliffe added. “And I’m sure someone will come behind you who will try to do what you’ve done and we’ll treat them nicely. But you are irreplaceable.”
Westville Alder Adam Marchand has served on the commission for five and half years. He praised Gilvarg for her knowledge of New Haven and planning skills as well as her genuine concern for the city. He said he saw that care most clearly demonstrated during the development of the city’s comprehensive plan.
“It was then that I began to appreciate just how important the planning function of government is and how the city really depends on having very competent scrupulous people leading that effort,” he said. “You’ve certainly met that bill and we will miss you and wish you the best in your future endeavors.”
City Engineer Giovanni Zinn said everyone in City Hall seeks to emulate Gilvarg. Zinn has had time to pick up pointers: He was an intern in City Plan about 12 years ago.
“We’ve had a couple of good interns over the years,” Gilvarg joked.
“It’s been wonderful having your advice on commissions but also on all the projects we’ve done,” he said.
One of the newest commissioners, Elias Estabrook said he appreciated the introduction that Gilvarg gave him to the work of the commission and all she did to help him be able to do the job well.
Alternate Commissioner Jonathan Wharton said he enjoyed working with Gilvarg before he became a commissioner and her leaving creates a serious void.
“I will miss you sincerely, he said.
Gilvarg graciously accepted the resolution and all the well-wishing noting that her time with the commission has been very much like a family.
“I’m not going away,” she said. “I’ll definitely be in town to the end of December and then back in April. I’m sure I’ll find a way to get back involved but not right away. First, a little reading and nothing for a while.”