Mr. (Exit) Strategy: No more Huja to kick around

Sure, Charlottesville is one of those best-places-to-live kind of towns now, but that wasn't the impression Satyendra Huja had when he came here 30 years ago.

"I'd heard great things about Charlottesville, but when I came, it looked like a dump," says the city's soon-to-retire director of strategic planning. He points to a photograph of a shanty-like dwelling on his wall. "That's what Charlottesville looked like when I came... I've been here 27 years longer than I thought I would be."

His first assignment was the Downtown Mall, and while people love it now, that wasn't the case in those days. "Any time there's a new idea, there's controversy," says Huja.

Today, people live in swanky digs on the Mall. There's more diversity. And a far cry from the days when there were only two restaurants, a cornucopia of eateries greets downtown strollers. That's important to a foodie like Huja, who loves to cook and describes his tastes as "eclectic."

Victuals also figure in Huja's volunteer activities. He started the local Meals on Wheels and a soup kitchen at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, the latter he calls "the most rewarding job I have because you have 30 satisfied customers."

Huja is an aesthete, and that's why there are so many flowers planted around the city. Years ago, some called it a waste of money. "Now, we get more compliments on the flowers and landscaping than anything else," he says.

Trees also play into quality of life here, and Huja says, "You couldn't cut a tree in the city without my permission, which I didn't give very often. It takes 25 years to grow a tree, and 20 minutes to cut it down."

As a planner, Huja is no stranger to complaints, and the biggest probably are about traffic and parking. He puts it into perspective: "It's not that bad here. Have you seen Washington or New York?"

Before he retires in July, Huja looks forward to embarking on such new projects as Court Square and Preston Commons that he foresees improving the city, even as they spark the expected controversy. That comes with the territory of city planning.

Any regrets he didn't split 27 years ago? "This is my hometown now," he says. "It's a better place to live than when I got here."

Age: 61

What brought you here? A job opportunity

What's worst about living here? Summer humidity

Favorite hangout? Timberlake's Drug Store lunchroom

Most overrated virtue? Patience

What would people be surprised to know about you? I collect teapots.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd speak more slowly.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Downtown revitalization, start of the Greenbelt system, flowers and trees for the city, Meals on Wheels.

What do people find most annoying about you? Impatience

Whom do you admire? Marie Curie for her persistence and Mahatma Gandhi for truth, nonviolence, and simplicity

Favorite book? The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

What subject causes you to rant? Conclusions without relevant, informed knowledge

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Communication, e-mail, and Internet

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Unwanted electronic junkmail and lack of face-to-face communication

What do you drive? BMW 325i

What's in your car CD player right now? Buena Vista Social Club

 What's your next journey? Pleven, Bulgaria, for a technical assistance trip

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? A speeding ticket while my young children were with me– because they never let me forget it

What do you regret? Not having devoted enough time to art

Favorite comfort food? Stuffed prathas– Indian vegetable pancakes

What's always in your refrigerator? Ginger, garlic, marmalade

Must-see TV? The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

 Favorite cartoon? New Yorker cartoons

Describe a perfect day. Good breakfast, morning meditation, favorite book, New York Times, fireplace, room full of flowers and art, and a walk by the river.

Walter Mitty fantasy? I'd be headmaster of a small, international boarding school.

Who'd play you in the movie? Sidney Poitier

Most embarrassing moment? Not too many things embarrass me.

Best advice you ever got? Do the right thing, regardless of the cost, and do not give up easily.

Favorite bumper sticker? The Moral Majority is neither.

Satyendra Huja will retire after 30 years of shaping Charlottesville.


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