CHATHAM – Peter Cocolis' career in the aerospace industry, where he worked on commercial and military programs, and in the Air Force, where he worked at the Pentagon and participated in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in the 1980s, taught him both to ask a lot of questions and not be afraid to make mistakes.
“You learn by doing and you learn by making mistakes,” he said.
Currently chairman of the planning board, Cocolis is running for the one-year unexpired term on the board of selectmen left vacant by the resignation of Amanda Love. He said he believes he can make a difference on the board and help advance important issues such as housing and long-term planning for the impact of the changes seen along the town's coastal environment this winter.
As of early this week, Cocolis was unopposed for the one-year term that will appear on the May 17 annual election ballot. Incumbent Selectmen Cory Metters and Dean Nicastro were also unopposed for two three-year terms on the board.
As chairman of the planning board, Cocolis helps spearhead some of the most significant zoning changes of the past decade. Two years ago voters approved rezoning of most of Route 28 to remove most commercial districts and replace them with residential zones, a move designed to reduce sprawl that was called for in the town's long-range comprehensive plan but long delayed. The board also implemented village district zones in South Chatham and West Chatham, and also amended flood plain zoning to accommodate new flood mapping.
He credits those successes to a strategy of holding a series of informational meetings with other town boards and local civic groups rather than depending solely on public hearings to get the word out.
“There are so many smart people in this town,” he said. “If you put them together you will come up with a solution.”
The planning board has been working on strategies to help ease the town's housing problems, most recently through an accessory dwelling unit bylaw which would allow the addition of separate dwelling units to existing single-family homes. After an initial draft drew considerable criticism, the board is revisiting the zoning bylaw amendment, and will probably follow a similar strategy as it did with the Route 28 zoning changes, Cocolis said.
The Cape's housing problem isn't one Chatham can solve alone, he said, adding that he saw the impact first-hand working with the Chatham Ecumenical Council for the Homeless and the St. Vincent DePaul Society. The strong zoning Chatham put in placed in the 1980s is partially responsible for the situation, since it led, directly or indirectly, to increases in the value of housing. The current discussions are “a way to start the conversation,” he said, and as a selectmen, he believes he can help move that conversation along.
Cocolis is also the town's representative on the Cape Light Compact, and serves on the regional group's executive committee. The organization has saved the town thousands of dollars, he said, by converting streetlights to LED-type lighting, and helped the town build photovoltaic arrays at the former landfill, annex and police department that save hundreds of thousands annually in electric costs.
In 2008 Cocolis and his wife Lorraine moved to the Riverbay home they bought in 2004. A native of Stamford, Conn., he graduated from Boston University with an engineering management degree and served in the Air Force until 1984. He held a variety of flying, system acquisition, command and Pentagon positions during his career, including working for the secretary of defense and serving as military advisor to the secretary of defense representative with the U.S. delegation on the Strategic Arms Reduction (START) talks in Geneva.
He worked for Boeing in business development and government relations, participating in the space shuttle, International Space Station and missile defense program. He holds an MBA from Auburn University and is a Kennedy School graduate of the National and International Security Management Executive program at Harvard University.
In Chatham, he served on the town's energy committee. He was first appointed to the planning board in 2011.
The town is well-run financially, he said, and he believes he can work well with the current members of the board of selectmen, whom he sees as professional, attentive and able to make independent decisions. A number of people encouraged him to run for selectman, he added. “It's not something I aspired to when I first moved here, but I think it's important.”
Other candidates on the ballot include Jo-ann Sheehan, who is running for a three-year term on the Monomoy Regional School Committee, and Joseph Auciello, who is running for a one-year unexpired term on the school panel. William Litchfield is seeking another three-year term as moderator.
The only contested race on the ballot is a five-year term on the housing authority, which is being sought by incumbent Priscilla Ford and challenge Kayta Koehler-Rice. Janice O'Connell is unopposed running for a two-year seat on the housing board.
Nomination papers must be returned to the town clerk's office by 5 p.m. today (Thursday, March 29).
Email Tim Wood at email@example.com.