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Enjoying Life, Work & Mel-Haven Engineering

Melanie Smith Combines Her Passion for Engineering & Conservation at Her Nearly Two-Year-Old Company

Article by Emily Leinfuss

Photography by Stephanie Smith Photography

Originally published in Venice City Lifestyle

When Melanie Delahanty Smith launched her own company in 2021, she was very purposeful about the two parts of its name: Mel-Haven and Passionate Engineering. “Mel-Haven is a merge of (my name) and my daughter’s name,” she says.

Melanie further explains that she named her daughter Haven after visiting the Mel-Haven Lodge in Colorado while she was pregnant. “When I broke out on my own, the name just rang true again - just like the sign,” she says.

As for the ‘Passionate Engineering’ part, Melanie explains that she's "passionate about the built environment, ensuring good design, and providing creative solutions that protect the natural environment while supporting our growing community needs."

Growing up in Venice, young Melanie says she was a tomboy who played soccer and spent time tinkering and fixing things with her father and grandfather. “My pop (grandfather) was ex-CIA, and my dad did mechanical work and owned a pool shop. If the mower or VCR went down, we would figure out how to fix them together,” she said.

After graduating Magna Cum Laude in Civil Engineering from the University of Florida in 2007, Melanie interned and then worked for the Naples-based land development, planning and engineering company WilsonMiller, which was acquired by Stantec in 2010. That’s where she engineered the many high-profile projects that made her stellar reputation.

The list is impressive: The Quay Sarasota and Quay Apartments by Lennar, Sarasota Memorial Hospital and SMH Venice, Ritz Carlton Residences, the Neal Development communities Milano, Aria, and Vicenza in Venice, and many more. 

Melanie humbly credits those accomplishments to her mentor at Stantec, Millard Yoder. “There are no words to describe the opportunity and growth that came from working with Millard. His creativity, and his way of seeing things influenced what I do now,” she says, referring to passionate engineering and “making a real impact on the built environment.”

Yoder’s influence included becoming an advocate for conservation while planning for growth. As a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified engineer, Melanie does her best and then some to save features like creeks and trees, natural vegetation, and habitat. "You do the best you can to build with the land, not against it,” she says.

While acknowledging that, as an engineer, she has made her name in a male-dominated field, Melanie doesn't see that as having been an obstacle in her career. “I’ve always had a strong drive to succeed,” she says. “I’d rather be wearing work boots and pants (than a dress).”

Furthermore, she feels the stereotype - about how engineers are introverted nerds wearing pocket protectors - is a thing of the past. “Today’s engineers talk to city commissions and planning councils. Not only do we need to understand the technology, the equations and the why of site planning, we have to be able to explain our choices to the client and get them to agree,” she explains.

Now, at Mel-Haven, the projects Melanie works on tend to be smaller and more intimate than before: and she’s glad of it. Current projects include representing the owner of a 2,000 acre project in Lake Wales, doing land development management for a few local developers, and working with single-owner properties out on Manasota Key that need site-related design and permitting.

“I (already) did the high-stress, high-publicity stuff. I like being able to pick and choose from the smaller jobs that bigger firms won’t even touch, and help the little guys,” she says. That's one of the reasons she started her own company in the first place.

Another plus to being her own boss is the freedom it affords. “My mom and my sister-in-law own (Venice company) Simply Trees. I watched them succeed and saw the freedom they had. It looked good.”

Today, Melanie is enjoying the good life at work, and at home with daughter Haven and her husband of 19 years. “I live, work and enjoy my projects every day!”

“I (already) did the high-stress, high-publicity stuff. I like being able to pick and choose from the smaller jobs that bigger firms won’t even touch, and help the little guys.”

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