Full Throttle

The staff at Lamoureux & Dickinson are the engineers that could

by Rosalyn Graham

Roger Dickinson (second from right) is vice president and partner of Lamoureux & Dickinson Consulting Engineers, an Essex Junction firm that prides itself on being ahead of the curve when it comes to land-use planning and innovative thinking. Jason Dattilio (left) is the firm's survey manager; Doug Henson (seated) is a partner and project manager; and Michael Gervais is a surveyor.

The engineers at Lamoureux and Dickinson Consulting Engineer in Essex Junction are blending the tradition of civil engineers their meticulous designing and construction of the infrastructure of cities, towns and neighborhoods with a vision of the best use of the land that will ensure the preservation of the landscape and the quality of life.

Engineers have always played a key role in the built environment. They survey the land; they design the roads and the systems for handling water in and water out; they plan the movement of traffic; they apply for the permits; and they negotiate the complexities of local and state regulations.

There are four principals in L&D: Leonard Lamoureux, Roger Dickinson, Douglas Goulette and Douglas Henson.

Lamoureux founded the firm in 1985 as Lamoureux Consulting Engineer and Land Surveyor. He came to Vermont during the construction of Interstate 91 to work as a surveyor in St. Johnsbury, and later joined an engineering firm in Chittenden County before establishing his business.

Over the years, the firm has operated under several names. Kenneth Stone joined the firm in 1989, and the name became Lamoureux & Stone. After Paul O'Leary came on board, the firm became known as Lamoureux, Stone & O'Leary. Dickinson was hired in 1991 to head the transportation engineering section and became a partner in 1994. Goulette joined the firm in 1985; Henson joined in 1988; and both became partners in 2002. After Stone retired and O'Leary left the firm, in 1998, the name was changed to Lamoureux & Dickinson.

"Engineers tend to get a less creative rep," says Goulette as he describes the way the firm brings new creative strategies to projects. Team members at L&D pride themselves on trying to be ahead of the curve when it comes to land-use planning, preservation of natural resources and innovative thinking.

"We encourage our staff to keep on top of what is going on, the latest development trends, the latest thinking about storm water management or soils science," Goulette says.

They have applied that creativity to projects as diverse as the Bartlett Bay Road stormwater treatment project in South Burlington and a planning study for the future growth of Fairfax, to the Essex bike path, South Hero traffic calming and the Hubbel's Falls Bridge in Essex Junction.

A good example of working with a developer and a town to, in Dickinson's words, "push the envelope" is a project L&D recently worked on for The Snyder Companies. Highlands Village is a large residential project with multi-level buildings on the site of the former Baker Motel on Pearl Street in Essex Junction. "This is a great concept of high-density residential living in a small area right in downtown Essex Junction," says Goulette. The project's central location means people can walk to stores and businesses, reducing traffic impact, and people will move in who will bring their economic impact to the town, he says. "Essex Junction was really excited about having a revitalization of that particular property, which had been a problem spot with incidents of vandalism. Highland Village will revitalize the area."

Mark Lords, a partner in The Snyder Companies, looks back on a long relationship with L&D. "Leonard Lamoureux has been the engineer on all the Snyder Company projects from day one," Lords says. "They help us as consultants with all the state and local permits for water, waste water, traffic, wetlands, aesthetics and Act 250, and do all the civil engineering, mapping, designing streets, sewer and utilities, and laying out the lots for the best overall exposure for views and aesthetics. There are a huge number of issues to be looked at simultaneously."

Engineers consider the constraints associated with developing a particular property, such as soil conditions, traffic impact, cost and population density. Brian Tremback (left) is a wetlands/soils scientist; project manager/engineer Doug Goulette is a partner in the firm.

The Highland Village project was particularly tough, Lords says. They were putting 77 units on a five-acre lot, on a challenging site with significant elevation changes from the lower end to the upper and strict requirements to preserve green space. "It is amazing to have such expertise right here in Chittenden County," Lords says.

The projects L&D has engineered for Snyder Companies make a long list: Woodlands Glen, Countryside, Essex Green, Fairview Farm and Highland Village in Essex; Brennan Woods, Southridge and Taft Farms in Williston; Stone House Village and Greenbriar in South Burlington; Creek Farm and Sunderland Woods in Colchester; and Petty Brook in Milton. Several more are in the works.

"We like to think we've been able to influence growth in a positive way with proper designs. We try to provide a service to our clients that affects the quality of life," says Dickinson. "What we're seeing is more innovative thinking. Developers are coming along and saying we can do better than what we've done over the last 30 to 40 years.

"They are ready to move away from the more rectangular kind of subdivision designs where they just punched in streets perpendicular to a main street, so they all feed in to that street. Now we are saying we should make more of a neighborhood, mixing the uses, bringing back the vitality that exists in our older towns and villages with neighborhood stores and grid-patterned streets."

Goulette admits that some towns are not flexible about accepting such innovation and, typically, zoning regulations dictate the segregated uses. "You're in a residential zone, and God forbid you might try to put a store in a residential zone. You just can't do it," he says. "Towns have to start implementing those kinds of concepts. A neighborhood with a little neighborhood store that's the kind of thing some of us grew up with. Someone along the line decided we should have segregated zones in the towns, but that thinking was a little narrow."

Planning for that kind of change in designing developments that are neighborhoods comes at the civil engineering stage of the process. Typically a developer is interested in a piece of property and comes to L&D with ideas, goals and objectives. A team headed by one of the four company principals looks at the property and identifies the constraints associated with it. For example, Dickinson says, Brian Tremback, the wetland and soils scientist, would look at the soil conditions: Is there ledge? Is it sandy? Will it support a septic system or is there municipal water and sewer? Are there wetlands? A frequent concern is whether there are prime agricultural soils.

Traffic is another major constraint. That's Dickinson's area. He would look at the surrounding road network, possible problems of access and whether existing roads are adequate to serve the proposed project.

"As projects get bigger and more intense, traffic becomes a greater issue," he says. "For a shopping center there might be the need for a traffic light, or perhaps the need to widen the road."

Kate Lampton, executive director of the Champlain Valley Greenbelt Alliance, worked with him when she chaired the Charlotte Planning Commission in the late 1980s, and more recently when she was Shelburne Town Planner, says, "Traffic studies are very complex and specialized. Roger is extremely knowledgeable, very practical and good at presenting information without the jargon so laypeople and boards can understand. He's calm even when under fire from irate neighbors."

Always, part of the analysis is cost. The developer needs the information to put into his financial equation to make sure the project works financially. "Sometimes our analysis is as far as it goes," Dickinson says. "Maybe we can't get the density or the number of units to make it work, or the infrastructure costs are too high, or we can't get a way to dispose of the waste water, or the soil conditions aren't right."

If the numbers do work, the engineers prepare a preliminary plan called a sketch plan, which shows a layout of the proposed development, the roads, the lots and sometimes a density analysis to prove that the project meets the town's zoning regulations.

The developer and the engineers take the sketch plan to the zoning board of the town involved or, in the case of many towns that are combining the functions of zoning and planning, to the development review board. The board's comments and concerns are incorporated into the next step, the preliminary plan.

"The preliminary plan is where the bulk of the engineering work is done," Dickinson says. The team leaders pull in the computer-aided design (CAD) technician/designers who work on the plans, others from within the L&D firm and occasional outside experts such as archaeologists.

Management of a project might call on the talents of six professional engineers, two licensed land surveyors, a planner and landscape architect, a soil and wetlands scientist and a dozen other talented professionals such as Patti Coburn, project manager/civil engineer (left) and Jody Carriere, project manager/transportation engineer.

L&D is somewhat unusual in the amount of in-house expertise it brings to a project. Small firms typically subcontract specialty functions such as soil analysis and traffic and landscape design.

"It helps to keep things on track," says Dickinson, "We don't have to wait for someone else's schedule."

As Goulette points out, "Projects are on a sort of a critical path schedule, and you can't get very far if you are missing a key piece of information, such as if you don't know where the wetlands are. Having the expertise in-house is a big advantage."

When the team has completed its design and an analysis of municipal impacts for example, the number of children who will come into the school system from a project and has addressed all the town and state criteria for proper development, it is presented to the municipality as the preliminary plan. When the negotiations are completed related to that stage, only the final plan, typically a rubber stamp, is left. "The preliminary plan is the big hurdle," Dickinson says.

When the design work is done, L&D usually moves on to be directly involved in the construction of the project. This is the hands-on, mud-on-the-boots phase of the engineering process. They ensure that water lines are in properly and that soil erosion measures meet standards; they provide stake-out services for roads, lots and buildings on the lots, and test water lines and pavement.

Many town or state permits require that a professional engineer certify some of the work, and in some cases might require a daily inspection, especially when a developer is building a road that will become a town road. "They want an independent observer," Goulette says. Some large projects have a full-time, on-site design engineer.

Lamoureaux & Dickinson keeps ahead of the critical path by using in-house expertise, which is especially valuable when dealing with the challenging requirements of Act 250. Sue Ryan (left), office manager, and Jane Lustwerk, administrative assistant, support the effort.

L&D counts several "firsts" among its laurels, including the design of the first lined landfill in Vermont and the first state-funded bike path. It has been involved in many more landfills and bike paths, in addition to upgrading fire district facilities, sewer and waste water projects, school construction and mobile home projects.

"One of the things about engineering in Vermont is that the work comes in waves you have to ride technology and funding waves," says Dickinson. Federal and state funds might be available for wastewater projects for a while, then that "wave" passes and bike paths become popular. L&D works with state agencies and municipalities and is in constant contact with peers through professional associations to be ready for the next wave.

The people at L&D are also active in the community, taking their commitment to personal fitness into such worthwhile projects as the MS Bike-a-Thon, the Tour de Cure and the Vermont Marathon and organizing outings for staff and families such as a hike up Camels Hump. "It's fun and it helps to keep us all healthy," Dickinson says.

Originally published in May 2003 Business People-Vermont