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City planner uses skills, experience to better the community

May 19, 2019

HUNTINGTON - Huntington City Planner Shae Strait said he was encouraged by family members to seek employment outside of West Virginia after he completed his master of architecture degree at Fairmont State University.

However, the Harrison County native said that was never his plan. He had joined the West Virginia Army National Guard and worked as a civil engineer for six years with the ultimate goal of giving back.

“I wanted to make a difference in my community and my state,” Strait said. “I knew we needed change and we needed betterment. So I wanted to stay here and be part of that and do well by my community.”

Strait joined Huntington’s office of Planning and Zoning last year, quickly taking up the mantle to help reform the city’s zoning ordinances. He has since led efforts to lower parking standards and update language requiring more uniformity among buildings within the city’s neighborhood commercial districts.

It’s part of the office’s overall goal of making the zoning ordinances more thorough and easier to understand for residents, business owners and developers. The office had been working on updating its zoning ordinances for several years, but was planning a widespread change at one time. Strait said he made the suggestion of pulling each change out piece by piece and making incremental updates instead.

“That’s the only part I can really take credit for, everyone else had done a lot of the work,” he said.

Strait began his career studying civil engineering before becoming fed up and quitting that career path. He joined the West Virginia Army National Guard hoping to get a new start and then took an aptitude test. To his surprise, the test suggested he should study civil engineering.

He spent nine months studying how to be a civil engineer at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

“Eventually I became squad leader and technical knowledge expert for the civil engineers in the state on quality control surveying and design,” he said.

In between active duty time with the National Guard, Strait completed a master of architect degree at Fairmont State University. He went on to be a consultant before joining West Virginia B.A.D. Buildings, which stands for Brownfield Abandoned and Dilapidated buildings. The nonprofit organization saw him going to several West Virginia communities to offer expertise on how to revitalize vacant and empty structures.

“I find that to be the most exciting way to revitalize a community,” he said. “Not only are you taking a vacant, empty building and doing something cool with it, but as a designer and architect you already have these rules and boundaries to work in.”

Strait’s work saw him giving advice in cities such as Thomas, Davis, Weston, Fairmont and Charleston. He became familiar in working with city governments and familiar with land-use laws, he said. In Charleston, he wrote the West Side Revitalization Plan, which continues to shape efforts in that neighborhood.

When he saw the opening for a city planner in Huntington, he knew it would be a departure from his previous work and an opportunity to became a change-maker himself.

“Honestly, I was getting frustrated as a nonprofit worker,” he said. “I was writing plans and making recommendations on action items for how communities can hopefully make positive changes and then seeing them not act on it or see them hold it up in dialog for one year or two years.”

Since joining Huntington, he has enjoyed the opportunity to leave the sidelines and be the guy making decisions instead.

Strait said his favorite things so far has been working on efforts to revitalize the Hal Greer Boulevard corridor and Fairfield Neighborhood. A consulting group has been studying the boulevard to determine where crosswalks, stop lights and stop signs should be, among other changes. They will also recommend ideal locations for more stores and more affordable housing.

He also enjoys working in Huntington, which is willing to try new things, he said. Working in Fairmont, for example, he saw that the city and university rarely communicated. That doesn’t exist in Huntington, which keeps a regular dialogue with Marshall University and institutions like Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center.

“One of the reasons I am here is that I’ve worked with plenty of others who were afraid to try things and Huntington is not,” he said “I am greatly appreciative of that.”

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

NAME: Shae Strait

AGE: 32

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Master of Architecture from Fairmont State University

FAMILY: None

FIRST JOB: Front end manager at Target

CURRENT JOB: City planner

HOMETOWN: Shinnston, West Virginia

HOBBIES: Mountain biking, playing music, and board games.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.” - Jane Jacobs - The Death and Life of Great American Cities

FAVORITE AUTHOR: R.A. Salvatore

FAVORITE BOOK: “Sailing Alone Around the World” by Joshua Slocum

FAVORITE MOVIE: “Wayne’s World”

FAVORITE TV SHOW: “Band of Brothers”

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