The final plan: Ken Buckland reflects on career as retirement approaches

Jan 26, 2024

In 2003, Kenneth “Ken” Buckland was not the director of Planning and Community Development for Wareham. However, he was a part of the consulting team that helped develop plans for the downtown. 

The intention was to revamp the streetscape, including changes to parking, traffic patterns and infrastructure. 

By 2016, some of these plans had been fulfilled, but there was still much to be done and Wareham was in need of a town planner.

At this point in his career, Buckland, a resident of Falmouth, had thought he was through with public work and had been in the private sector for some time. However, Town Administrator Derek Sullivan took him out to lunch and made an offer he “couldn’t refuse.”

Accepting the position, Buckland saw lots of potential and opportunity in Wareham that excited him. For Buckland, this was a “full circle” moment as he was going to be able to oversee the implementation of a plan he had been a part of creating over a decade prior. 

In addition, Buckland said he and the town administration shared a common goal: economic development. 

Eventually, Buckland’s status as the part-time town planner would change when Sullivan proposed a new position that combined the duties of a planning director and community and economic director. The goal was to streamline how officials plan for the future by having Buckland answer directly to Sullivan. 

Almost eight years later, Sullivan announced at a Tuesday, Jan. 9 Select Board meeting that Thursday, Feb. 29 will be Buckland’s final day as he is ready to retire.

But he doesn’t intend to stay gone. 

Buckland said if he is able to, he would like to continue on in an advisory role with the Redevelopment Authority and finally see his plans come to fruition — that would be when he’s not spending his time creating children’s books for his grandsons. 

Buckland said he enjoys writing and illustrating his grandchildren into the books and plans to do more of it in his retirement, but does not intend to publish the stories. The latest one follows “Max the Turtle” who is searching for places to play. This was inspired by the turtle costume his grandson received for Halloween. 

Buckland came into this role with approximately 35 years of experience.

Earning two master’s degrees, Buckland began his career studying environmental science, specifically researching the land and water resources for a river in Connecticut. 

Buckland said during that time he realized it would be beneficial to know land-use management as that is “what was having the biggest effects on the river.” Therefore, he went and obtained his second master’s degree in environmental policy.

He would go on to hold a few positions before becoming the town planner for Falmouth. However, Buckland said he got “bogged down in the local politics” and turned to private consulting before breaking back into the public sector in Wareham. 

But coming into Wareham, Buckland said he had a new perspective on politics. 

“It’s the politics that is what makes things happen and you have to accommodate different directives and different needs,” he said. 

Buckland said there were a number of projects and initiatives he enjoyed working on during his time in Wareham, including bringing in developers, negotiating with cannabis businesses and obtaining many grants.

He said the grants he has been able to acquire do the work of advancing “different development opportunities” and also “gets people moving and investing in their properties.”

During his time in office, Buckland said the town has been able to find developers for the Tremont Nail Factory, the Eastern Bank and other properties in Wareham Village. 

Looking back, Buckland said he’s “pleased” with his work in obtaining town funds from cannabis tax dollars and sales: “That was something that was controversial, but it turned out rather benign and has raised [approximately] $4 million for the town.”

The same year Buckland began working in Wareham, the state legalized the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Although some were hesitant toward welcoming these businesses, Buckland saw the benefits it could have for the community, especially financially.

Buckland said he had played a part in connecting developers with the right properties for them and negotiating the community host agreements, while assisting the businesses with the permitting and processes. 

He said he played a role in getting the Spring 2023 Town Meeting to approve the rezoning of Wareham Village, “believing that something better could be done with the buildings and properties in the downtown and with proper land-use regulations in place.”

The changes — which intended to promote more development while also preserving the character of the village — included new uses, taller buildings and even buildings using the air rights over Merchants Way.

However, not all of the town's planning and development initiatives have had the full support of the community. 

Buckland highlighted how community members disapproved of different solar projects over the last decade. He said the town has solar on roofs and over parking lots, but it was when the panels were going to be placed in open fields or green spaces that seemed to “bother people to no end.”

He said this type of use was “fairly benign” and people are limited in what they can do when they do not own the land. 

Buckland also said he found it challenging to represent the plan to bring in a casino, horse racetrack and hotel complex to town when he wasn’t in full support of the plan himself. 

Approximately 1,000 voters showed up to the Spring 2021 Town Meeting at Spillane Field, with over 800 votes cast not in favor of a large section of Wareham being rezoned as a “hospitality district.” The effort to rezone the land was led by the Notos Group — a family-run development company that initially pitched a slot parlor and racetrack before withdrawing those plans.

“I felt that although it made a lot of sense in terms of economic development and the amount of money the town would get from the development project and … from fees to the town would be enormous, the impact on the commercial development and the village center could be significantly harmful to those areas as well,” he said. 

Buckland added, “It wasn’t necessarily something I felt strong about, but I did have to represent [it] because it did have an opportunity for the town to make some significant income.”

Despite troubles here and there, Buckland gained some wisdom to pass down to his successors: “Listen to the people in the town because they know what works best for the community. They have it in their hearts for the best outcome.”

“Do your best to accommodate new money coming in and private investment that you can expect to occur in town,” he added. “If you disagree with [the residents], try to convince them otherwise, but know they are probably right in their assessment of what works with the town.”

Buckland said it may also be beneficial for the town to consider combining its water districts in the future as there would be “some cost savings associated with that.”

Reflecting on his overall time in town, Buckland said, “This has been a very good experience — very interesting.

“It’s a different kind of town than a lot of the ones around and it has a different demographic and a different attitude and I think that's good,” he added. “It's refreshing and I think the town is going to do well for itself.”