Planning directors are multitaskers in small communities

Planning directors in small communities perform a variety of roles as both directors and staff.

The effective planning director in a small community has to be very good at managing a variety of tasks in order to be successful. As a former director in such a community of 30,000 residents, I was fortunate enough to have a small staff: a secretary and a deputy. Major planning activities were conducted by professional firms identified through a request for proposals (RFP) process; and this process assumes that funds are available to pay consultants to develop such documents as master plans and updated zoning ordinances.

The staff I was required to supervise was relatively small and the deputy worked primarily as a grant manager processing applications for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Those activities included housing rehabilitation and repair. But, this small community had a Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA), a Downtown Development Authority (DDA), an active planning commission and a zoning board of appeals (ZBA). All these different groups needed administrative support which was the responsibility of the planning director. The planning director was also given the building department to manage as well, which is not an uncommon assignment for planning staff. The director was also the staff planner responsible for writing and processing all site plan reviews and interpreting the zoning code.

While the collection of varying duties may seem overwhelming, they are not rare for small planning staffs in small communities. So, for such directors, the goal is to organize the office and create processes to improve efficiencies. For, example, having a site plan check-list and easy-to-follow applications will cut down on questions early in the process.

Predevelopment meetings help to reduce errors and additional submittals for plans. They also help staff in maximizing their time in collecting and reviewing applications for completeness. With so many different responsibilities, the director must efficiently use any staff that they have access to, and create procedures that reduce the time consuming task of repeating reviews and multiple submittals from the client public.

For more information, visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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