The night of her first Astoria Planning Commission meeting, Brookley Henri’s heart was beating fast, but she wasn’t nervous.
The meeting would last for nearly three hours, involve emotional, complex testimony and require commissioners to be nimble in upholding and interpreting city development code. The room, uncomfortably warm at the end of a hot July day, was packed. People spilled into the hallway and adjoining conference rooms, straining to hear.
If anyone thought Henri would spend this first meeting sitting quietly or struggling to keep up, they were wrong. The newly appointed commissioner jumped right in.
Appointed by Mayor Arline LaMear to fill a seat left vacant when former Commissioner Frank Spence was elected to the Port of Astoria Commission, Henri is a landscape architect and familiar with the language and expectations of documents like the development code.
Henri and her family moved to Astoria from Portland a year and half ago after her husband, Troy, took a job as Clatsop Community College’s recruitment coordinator in student services. She kept her longtime job with a Portland environmental engineering and consulting firm and works primarily out of a home office. Once a week, though, she has to commute to Portland. It can be an isolating schedule, she said.
Henri, who grew up in Bend and Issaquah, Washington, wanted to connect more with her new community. When Community Development Director Kevin Cronin suggested applying for the open planning commission position, the volunteer aspect of the appointment as well as the clear commitment it required appealed to her.
“Before I knew it, I was a planning commissioner, which I think is such an honor,” Henri said. She said she has asked herself, “Is it OK for me to be making these (land use) decisions when I moved here 16 months ago?” At the same time, with her background and experience, she feels she has something to contribute.
She is especially happy to find herself in the company of other women, Commissioners Jan Mitchell and Jennifer Cameron-Lattek.
“Places like that I often find I am the only woman,” Henri explained.
And she says it is clear she is part of a very committed group. “We try to stick to the city codes, but when it comes to making a decision, we’re often interpreting code,” she said, “and we help each other with these deliberations. It’s very transparent.”
Astoria feels like a place where she can, as she says, “make places for people while we are also being good stewards of the earth.” She points to a track record of urban reclamation here — taking old buildings and making them useful again while retaining historical characteristics — as well as the care and interest citizens show in the woods surrounding Astoria and the Columbia River.
“I don’t think this is a temporary home,” Henri said. “For me this is heaven.”