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Thread: The small town planning thread

  1. #1
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    The small town planning thread

    Well, as some of you may know, I have recently changed the direction of my career and became a small town planner. I have gone from a city of 72,000 people to one of about 2500. Of course, my commute has shrunk and the people are nice, I am also looking forward to a diversification of my duties as a planner (and it has been hinted that "other duties as assigned" may include the driving of a snow plow).

    Anyways, I know that a few small town planners are out here in Cyburbia, and I wanted to create a forum where we could share our experiences or offer advise.

    More later...
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  2. #2
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    hey Zman - I am in a town of 5k in winter, 18k in summer welcome to the world of small town planning -

  3. #3
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Large Issues facing us here.

    This town has grown from 587 people in 2000 to 2,600 people in 2007. Our central location in Northern Colo, between 3 of the larger North Colo cities; as well as inexpensive housing has made this area a choice location for commuters thus creating a bedroom community. Since housing has grown so quickly here, much needed commercial (and the sales tax that comes with it) has been slow to catch up. Inexpensive oil has allowed our citizens to travel for shopping into neighboring towns (as well as commute into work), with the closest grocery market being approximately 6 miles away.
    Now, with the fast residential growth brought a lot of local transplants, who had been priced out of the neighborhing larger cities (including my wife and I). With this demographic growing, we receive a lot of requests for the city services that they have been used to elsewhere. However, with the low tax base, we cannot provide things like a 24 hour police department and therefore contract with the County for sheriff services and formed a Fire-District with the Town Next Door (our station in town is currently volunteer only).

    Hopefully, not only as an employee, but also as a citizen, the increase in population growth will awaken local businesses and retailers into opening up shop around here therefore bringing in the much needed sales tax and also allowing for the greater interaction with the community and possibly town building? I think that town building would occur with keeping people IN TOWN all day and therefore, let's throw some job creation on the list.
    Who knows. Gotta get the foreclosure monkey of our backs first.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  4. #4
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    wow - it looks like you'll be doing:
    1. a streets plan
    2. an impact fee proposal
    3. a service delivery strategy plan
    4. and open space and recreation plan with some TDR's to preserve views and stuff that's important -

    great stuff - it sounds like you're in a good place to really implement some good planning tools - don't be overwhelmed but it doesn't sound like you are so that's good

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    wow - it looks like you'll be doing:
    1. a streets plan
    2. an impact fee proposal
    3. a service delivery strategy plan
    4. and open space and recreation plan with some TDR's to preserve views and stuff that's important -
    Add a Main Street plan to the list. Sounds like opportunities for interns from your alma mater.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    My roles on the Economic Development Committee as well as the Downtown Plan Committee (created through the State Dept. of Local Affairs) have now been changed from volunteer to staff liason.

    Fortunately, I am not (actually true) the only planner. I am serving in a much needed second planner role and have smart, new Comp Plans (updating this year) and zoning codes with which to work.


    BUT, enough about me, this thread is for ALL of those planning in similar environs. I want this to be a forum for all of us to share and communicate with regard to small town planning.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Zman, I guess you got a good severance package.

    Queen Bee's lament about being downrated for not getting everything done right now in a one-person shop would fit well in this forum.

    How are other small towns staffed? Mine is a city of about 7,800 people and about twice that number of weekend visitors. On the planning side there's me, a senior planner, and two planning technicians, one of whom is devoted solely to our vacation rental dwelling program. This is a 100% increase from about five years ago. In fact, for a while there it was me, me, and me. No support staff at all.

  8. #8
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    How are other small towns staffed? Mine is a city of about 7,800 people and about twice that number of weekend visitors. On the planning side there's me, a senior planner, and two planning technicians, one of whom is devoted solely to our vacation rental dwelling program. This is a 100% increase from about five years ago. In fact, for a while there it was me, me, and me. No support staff at all.
    Work in a town of about 25,000. Staff is Department Director, Town Plannner (me), GIS Manager, and department secretary.

    Prior to my arrival in 2000, there was just 1 professional and the secretary.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  9. #9
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I have an entry level staff planner that handles regulatory boards' admin and first levels of review and ordinance research, and then I have an office assistant that I share with Code Enforcement, I also have an intern for 12 weeks a year, which actually is helpful if you get a good one! It's a sneaky way to get a little help in the office if you can't add staff -

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    I have an entry level staff planner that handles regulatory boards' admin and first levels of review and ordinance research, and then I have an office assistant that I share with Code Enforcement, I also have an intern for 12 weeks a year, which actually is helpful if you get a good one! It's a sneaky way to get a little help in the office if you can't add staff -
    It can be good. The last time I went out to get an intern all the applicants I got were world savers, not nuts and bolts workers. While the world needs saving, I have some specific, local work that needs to be done and it does not even involve saving the local area (that's my job). And yes, the description of the position was VERY specific. But I am going to try again this summer.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    I am the economic development coordinator for a small rural town on the outskirts of the Phoenix area. We have are a town of 25,000 but if you remove the prison population it puts us around 8,000. Doing small town economic development is much more rewarding than doing it for a large town (although I am not sure my DC experience should be used as the model for large city ED work).

    I am the staff liason to the Redevelopment commission, Main Street Program, Chamber, Industrial Development Authority, and a few local economic development planning group.

    Good call on the thread.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  12. #12
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    It can be good. The last time I went out to get an intern all the applicants I got were world savers, not nuts and bolts workers. While the world needs saving, I have some specific, local work that needs to be done and it does not even involve saving the local area (that's my job). And yes, the description of the position was VERY specific. But I am going to try again this summer.
    I went to the Director of planning departments for a couple of area colleges/universities and hand-picked my intern and my staff planner by asking the Department Head for their best student- my current intern and staff planner are top notch and were at the top of the class - it's a win win because they didn't have to go out begging for work and I know I got a bright student

    yes, when I advertised, I had bad luck so now I just recruit - having been recruited myself, it's a great feeling so you are already off to a good start as the hiring was positive - at least, this is my theory...

    it's of note to say that when you do have a small department, it's so important to have good people - you can't hide your bad ones and hope they leave or push them aside - when you are a small operation, everyone is important and has real work that has to get done -

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    My first job was in a city of 12,500 in a county of 30,000. We had a shared planning director with one assistant planner. The next community I worked in had a population of 1,600 with no planning staff. From there I went to a place with 13,500 people. There was a zoning director, but no planner.

    Rural, small midwestern communities tend not to have planning staff. Instead, they contract for the services they need.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    I once worked for a city/county of 13,000 and enjoyed the heck out of it. Ended up doing a little bit of everything for them. I enjoyed the more laid back atomsphere of the place.

    I am also a firm believer that actual planning in the small towns/rural areas. It's there you see the sprawl and how it affects the local budgets. You see the actual need for planning in the rural areas. Further, it shows what actually works and what doesn't. Planning theory gives way to planning reality really quick. Finally, you can make the greatest impact in these areas.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    ... Ended up doing a little bit of everything for them. I enjoyed the more laid back atomsphere of the place. ...Finally, you can make the greatest impact in these areas.
    Thata's the big attraction to me of small town planning. You get to work on everything, and you can make a difference.

    The down side is that every decision affects someone personally and you hear about it at Safeway, in the restaurant, at the gym, etc., etc. You don't get any anonymity. Last night I was working out at the gym and a local realtor took me to task for a decision I had made a couple of weeks ago. Man, that guy had some guns. And tatoos. I had never seen him in short sleeves.

  16. #16
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    The down side is that every decision affects someone personally and you hear about it at Safeway, in the restaurant, at the gym, etc., etc. You don't get any anonymity. Last night I was working out at the gym and a local realtor took me to task for a decision I had made a couple of weeks ago. Man, that guy had some guns. And tatoos. I had never seen him in short sleeves.
    My kids hate going to the supermarket with me because I always get stopped with a "quick question" that never had a quick answer to it - or worse, they stop my freshman daughter in the store and say "hey I know your Mom!"

    it's nice that people feel that their government is accessible (and I really do mean that) which I repeat to myself over and over when I'm in a hurry, have a whining 3 yo with me, and I have more than 3 types of alcohol in the cart... uh, yeah, I'm having a party, yes, that's right...

  17. #17
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    . . . and I have more than 3 types of alcohol in the cart... uh, yeah, I'm having a party, yes, that's right...
    That was a problem for me in my last job, usually the day of the big tailgate party. I actually wore a ball cap ( I rarely do) in order to not be recognized.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    That is one of the nice things about living in the next county over. You don't have to deal with the folks every minute of the day. So far I have been able to say that I did not make the regulations my job is to enforce them. That way if I don't particularly agree I can side with the one complaining and it takes out the personal nature of it.

    Although I am feeling the push to reform the regulations myself and present the corrections to the board. I strongly believe that they should be the ones making the decisions on how it should be done. They simply have a mind of their own and don't hesitate to shoot me down. That is their right.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    That is one of the nice things about living in the next county over. You don't have to deal with the folks every minute of the day.
    That's one of the reasons I am happy to not live in the jurisdiction where I work (I live in the county, work in the city). I don't have to grant/deny things for my neighbors, or rat them out when I see violations. Like my next door neighbor's building code violations.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Ahh yes... ratting out neighbors.
    This was something I considered before taking this job. Of course, my neighborhood is pretty well built out and any violation that may occur, I can defer to the HOA as it is out of my jurisdiction.

    Now, if I can only explain snow plowing routes so that my neighbors quit bothering me. They're getting pretty tired of hearing, "Why should I care if the street gets plowed first...I don't drive to work anymore..." from me.

    The worst thing that has happened so far was that yesterday was "delinquent water account shut off day". That was interesting....
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Being a coastal resort town, we have a lot of vacation rental dwellings (VRDs). A couple of years ago we had someone apply for a building permit for an eight-bedroom single family house on the oceanfront. I told him before we issued the building permit that I believed he wanted to make it into a VRD, and that as far as I could tell it would be impossible to put the required parking for a VRD of that size on the lot (I documented this). He looked at me like I was from another planet, said he would be able to take care of it. Well the last few weeks he's been in and out of the office begging me to bend the rules for him. Since this is an area in which I have no discretion, the answer is "no." It seems he has a buyer, but they won't take it without all requirements for a VRD being met. They guy is complaining that he's already had to lower the price to $1.2 million (I think he's got less than $500,000 into it). Poor guy. The nice thing about this is that every time he comes in I get to say "I told you so." I'm a ruthless bastard!

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    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    Being a coastal resort town, we have a lot of vacation rental dwellings (VRDs). A couple of years ago we had someone apply for a building permit for an eight-bedroom single family house on the oceanfront. I told him before we issued the building permit that I believed he wanted to make it into a VRD, and that as far as I could tell it would be impossible to put the required parking for a VRD of that size on the lot (I documented this). He looked at me like I was from another planet, said he would be able to take care of it. Well the last few weeks he's been in and out of the office begging me to bend the rules for him. Since this is an area in which I have no discretion, the answer is "no." It seems he has a buyer, but they won't take it without all requirements for a VRD being met. They guy is complaining that he's already had to lower the price to $1.2 million (I think he's got less than $500,000 into it). Poor guy. The nice thing about this is that every time he comes in I get to say "I told you so." I'm a ruthless bastard!
    yes, we are a coastal resort town too - when we instituted restrictions on vacation rentals I had a Realtor call me up and say, "oh, LP, I had this nice young couple from Connecticut look at this house and they couldn't buy it because they can't rent it as a vacation rental (for the other 50 weeks of the year they aren't here) - uh, I'm supposed to feel bad for a young couple that can't buy a second home - nuh, uh - I was silent on the other end of the phone, I think he got my point - as in hello, that's why we wrote this ordinance, to make more housing available to year-round residents!

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    restrictions on vacation rentals
    We are looking into our options for such restrictions. Where can I see what you have done? PM me if you want.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    I'm curious too as to what others are doing with vacation rentals. In this small Colorado town, they were processed as zone changes (yikes!) and eventually changed to uses-subject-to-review with a $400 application fee.

    Some council people are concerned about the effect of these vacation rentals on the neighborhoods. Right now, we have about twenty throughout the Town. 500 year round residents, maybe 1,000 in the summer. 1/4 million tourists a year.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by progmac View post
    I'm curious too as to what others are doing with vacation rentals. In this small Colorado town, they were processed as zone changes (yikes!) and eventually changed to uses-subject-to-review with a $400 application fee.

    Some council people are concerned about the effect of these vacation rentals on the neighborhoods. Right now, we have about twenty throughout the Town. 500 year round residents, maybe 1,000 in the summer. 1/4 million tourists a year.
    We've got about 300 of them. They are seen as rendering neighborhoods inro ghost towns in the off season and party zones in the summer. Cannon Beach, up the coast a ways from us, capped them at 92, which was the number they already had. They have a lottery for a new permit as old ones give up their permits.

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