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Thread: Planning and building department structure

  1. #1
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Planning and building department structure

    We have one office that handles planning, zoning, economic development (to the extent that we actively do economic development!), and building/code enforcement. I have argued to our mayor that we should consider restructuring, and he agrees and wants me to come up with a proposal. So, my rather open-ended question to other public sector planners is... how is your department organized? I think we need to have one person oversee planning and another handle building/code enforcement - so we would end up with a director of planning and a building department director. Finally, we may also need to separate out economic development. As you can tell, I am struggling with what to suggest - how best to make sure everything gets done and no one person is completely overwhelmed without over-segmenting the various jobs so that there is duplication of effort. As you can also probably tell, I am completely confused - any help would be much appreciated!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I am a firm believer that zoning enforcement and building code enforcement should be separated from active economic development functions. How can one department foster and support development in an ombudsman role, then turn around and say "you cant do that" when the project needs a legitimate variance or special exception?

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    We have a Planning & Community Development Dept and a Building Department

    In Planning, we:
    • interpret and apply the zoning code for building permits
    • handle the proceedings and staff review for rezonings, PUDs, Special uses, Land Use Variations, Subdivisions, variations, Comp Plans
    • facilitate and develop economic development activities
    • act as laisions to Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Housing Commission, Economic Development inititives, Design Commission
    • do not do infield inspections for permit permits
    In the Building Dept, they:
    • accept, manage, and administer building permit applications
    • interpret and apply the building code
    • act as laision to the Building Code Review board
    • do all inspections and issue all COs
    • do all code enforcement in the field for ongoing noncompliance issues as they relate to the zoning code
    This setup works fine. We need to communicate well, which has not been a problem. Actually, the Planning Dept. recently took over the zoning adminstration/interpretation from the Building Dept.
    Last edited by mendelman; 24 Apr 2006 at 4:06 PM.
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  4. #4
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I have always worked in separate planning and building departments and it works okay -

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Thanks Mendelman - that is extremely helpful. Would you mind elaborating on the structure of your planning department? How large it it? What are the various job descriptions? Does your planning department administer affordable housing programs?
    Thanks again!



    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    We have a Planning & Community Development Dept and a Building Department

    In Planning, we:
    • interpret and apply the zoning code for building permits
    • handle the proceedings and staff review for rezonings, PUDs, Special uses, Land Use Variations, Subdivisions, variations, Comp Plans
    • facilitate and develop economic development activities
    • act as laisions to Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Housing Commission, Economic Development inititives, Design Commission
    • do not do infield inspections for permit permits

    In the Building Dept, they:
    • accept, manage, and administer building permit applications
    • interpret and apply the building code
    • act as laision to the Building Code Review board
    • do all inspections and issue all COs
    • do all code enforcement in the field for ongoing noncompliance issues as they relate to the zoning code

    This setup works fine. We need to communicate well, which has not been a problem. Actually, the Planning Dept. recently took over the zoning adminstration/interpretation from the Building Dept.

  6. #6
         
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    We have a Community Development Department with a number of divisions. These include planning (which includes current, long-range and neighborhhod) as one division, code enforcement, building inspection, development review engineering, and urban renewal, each as additional divisions. Each division has a manager, supervisor or administrator that reports the the department director. Economic development is done by the City Manager's Office and an independent outside agency. When it comes to economic development we could use some better communications. Planning staff has no idea what may be brewing with a new employer until we get a phone call from someone out of the blue who has already been talking to the City Manager about specific sites. It can be awkward at times since you never know what already been agreed to when it comes to process time lines, fees and other issues.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    We have a Planning Director who oversees all planning and zoning activities.
    A Building Administrator who is in charge of all code enforcement.
    Also, we just hired a Business Development Director to handle the Economic Development stuff.

    We have always had a seperate planning and building departments, but the planning department used to handle the Econ. Dev. until two years ago. All three are seperate departments with their own "boss". Seems to work quite well.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    It depends on the size, history and the business of the jurisdiction. I'm both planning director and building commissioner. Given the size and workload, it works. I also have 2 very good building inspectors, which helps. I think ED should be separate, but planning should be involved in the process. ED and planning have evolved into 2 separate fields with their own interests. A company looking to locate in a jurisdiction does need to know what hoops to jump through.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Related question - who handles infrastructure?

    Thanks very much. I am definitely leaning towards suggesting that economic development become its own department - from everything I have read that makes the most sense. Now I have yet another related question: who in your office handles things like administering water and sewer and other infrastructure upgrades, applying for grants to do so, etc.? We currently do this under planning, but to be honest I: (1) hate it and (2) feel totally under-qualified in the area of infrastructure improvement....

    Thanks again everyone!
    Last edited by ssc; 25 Apr 2006 at 1:06 PM.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Oh, and one more question - who handles housing?

    We have a significant housing rehab program. Currently, this also falls under out planning/building department. If we were to separate planning and building, where should housing rehab go? My inclination is planning, but it almost seems like its own area. Maybe a planning and housing should each have a deputy director who reports to a director of planning and community development? OMG, this is difficult.

    Thanks thanks thanks for all your ideas, thoughts, etc.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    In our small city we have a Planning and Community Development Department. It handles all current and long range planning activities (though very little long range planning is getting done now, except for some area specific plans being done through the city's urban renewal agency), as well as all building permit and inspection activities. There are two divisions: planning and building.

    Economic development and housing have by default come to the planning division. We have little in the way of skills or time for these, however.

    We had code enforcement but that is now in the police department. I'm glad to be rid of it because now we can focus on the "we're trying to help you" side of things.

    Infrastructure is handled by the Public Works department.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plus
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    In my fair city - extremely brief discriptions

    The Planning Dept is a combined city/county dept. (zoning, Subdiv, Comp Plan, zoning code enforcement)

    The Building Commission is a seperate combined city/county dept. (building permit, plan review, bldg code inspection)

    Housing Rehab and some ED is handled by our Dept of Metropolitan Dev. (CBDG admin, housing code inspection)
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  13. #13

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    After 32 years of this, I think you would be making a mistake to separate planning and building.

    You do not want the building inspection function to be adminiistered by someone who doesn't respect and understand the big picture. I've seen places where these functions were separate where the building department refused to enforce zoning requirements because they were unpopular. I have also seen places where separate departments worked, but only due to the quality of communication created by the individuals involved at a particular time. Separating the departments also makes it more difficult to have a "one-stop shopping" environment for the public.

    I am also inclined to disagree with Chet, although it is fairly debatable. I think the best planning/zoning departments understand clearly that their role is to help those people who are working within the box - however your community defines it - get things done efficiently. If you do that, then you don't want a separate ED agency bringing in things that are outside the box.

    I would tend to spin housing off, but as a new nonprofit rather than an agency of local government.

    If your jurisdiction is large enough, I think you work toward the arrangement Senior Jefe describes.

    None of this means that you expect the same person to do it all. A division of labor is obviosuly necessary. But it needs to be organized by one leader who understands the entire vision, not just pieces of it.

    At some point, Public Works probably does have to be a separate function.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by ssc
    Thanks very much. I am definitely leaning towards suggesting that economic development become its own department - from everything I have read that makes the most sense. Now I have yet another related question: who in your office handles things like administering water and sewer and other infrastructure upgrades, applying for grants to do so, etc.? We currently do this under planning, but to be honest I: (1) hate it and (2) feel totally under-qualified in the area of infrastructure improvement....

    Thanks again everyone!

    I don't know how large your city is but there are many departments/social service organizations that are quite good at writing grants. I would bet you are part of a regional planning organization or the like which usually provides some assistance when applying for grants. Won't write them but will help collect info. We have a Metro Council of Governments who puts all of grants together for us based on a project list that we submit every five years (updated annually) and that works well. Do you have a city engineer? You must not if the planning department is in charge of infrastructure improvements. There are usually people in the public works department that are quite versed in infrustructure issues, ask around for help.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian IlliniPlanner's avatar
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    The last place where I worked asked that I come up with a new consolidated department combining Building and Zoning into one "Community Development" department. We also were part of HUD's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the Housing Rehab was funded by CDBG and was overseen (the construction component) by the Building Department. The administrative was handled by Planning. Upon consolidation, there was the Building Division and Planning Division, with each division having its own manager, and then the Director who oversaw the Department.

    What was great about the consolidation was that we were centralized in one office area (a vacated court room) and were able to tell people right away if they were going to be able to apply for a specific permit without waiting days for a response from Zoning whether or not a fence proposed was too high, whether or not setbacks were met, or if they needed to apply for variances, amendments, and the like. And it stopped the continual referral to customers that they were "in the wrong department" and to "go down to the end of the hall and turn right." There was also a sense of what the other department (now division) was doing and to both work on the same priorities.
    One lot of redevelopment prevents a block of sprawl.

  16. #16
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    to add to what Lee says:

    My Planning Department is me and 2 secretaries, one of which also lends support to Code Enforcement. The Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) works in this department physically but reports to the Fire Chief (long story, stuff happening before I got here) - so her position is a division head, not a department head

    most of the time, it's really fine, because of that one stop shopping service people can get when they come in here and because I get along well with the Fire Chief so we can coordinate whatever needs to be coordinated

    but it can be a little odd when at a Planning Board meeting, they are talking about zoning issues, and the CEO will weigh in, even if it's more policy than technical - I don't mind comments on how the language will be enforced and what is trying to be accomplished here, but stay out of policy, the person has no training or education in planning but because she enforces it and is appended to planning, she dives right in - not sure how I will handle this but it may be handled on its own by Board members themselves, I might give a courtesy warning

    economic development and housing are part of my gig

    I also worked in a town that Building was separate and equal on another floor and it worked fine

    bottom line - do what you think is best for your town/city/county - no set up is perfect, there will always be some difficulties and quirks

  17. #17
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    At a previous job of mine the department was called "Planning and Economic Development", and the supposed economic development person oversaw everything else. We did mapping, zoning, planning and building permits. There was a mapping supervisor with a small staff, a building supervisor with the inspectors and girls her enter the permits into the computer below him, and planning and zoning was just a staff of three with one person in charge, to handle zoning clearances for building permits, zoning changes, code enforcement, subdivisions, etc. and time really didn't allow for any planning to take place. With just the three of us everything was retroactive. Anyway, I definitely advise against including economic development in the mix. On occassion we'd recommend rezoning to an industrial district should be denied, based on surrounding land uses and all that jazz. But the "boss" would tell the board how it should be approved because of the jobs and taxes the proposed industrial use would bring in. Never made any sense to me, but the elected officials never realized the problem. But I kind of liked having building and planning/zoning together. At my job now a person runs to our office to get his zoning clearance and then has to go elsewhere to get his actual building permit. And when the two entities don't talk there can be some confusion as to whether the permit can be issued (some conditions may still need to be met, etc.)

    Infrastructure, from my experiences, is usually handled by a public works or engineering department that talks with planning/zoning often but is a seperate department.

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