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Thread: Development services departments - a southern thing?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Development services departments - a southern thing?

    A few weeks ago, we took a family trip down from the NYC area to the vicinity of Greensboro, NC recently so that my little guy could spend time with grandma. It's a lovely area. Quality of life seems high, people are friendly, the pace is slower, and examples of good planning can be found. I've worked my entire career in the urban northeast and am a dyed in the wool yankee, but for curiosity's sake, I had a look at a few job postings in NC. Life in the megalopolis is often exhausting, and we could have a pretty nice lifestyle down there. Upon poking around online, I noticed that the planning function is typically housed within a "development services" department.

    Anyone know why this is the case? I must admit that this trips off a few alarm bells - is planning seen as ancillary to the real estate development community in the south? In the planning cultures that I've worked within, planning (ideally) does not serve the development community's interest exclusively, but promotes a broader conception of the public interest, which may in cases be very much at odds with the short-term needs of the development community.

    Maybe I am reading way too much into this. I looked up a few communities in SC and GA and saw the same thing - Planning is housed within the Department of Development Services. It's just a framing that I'm a little uncomfortable with.

    Am I crazy? Any insight on this would be great.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    My last city in Arizona called the total department "Community Development" Planners, permit techs, building inspectors, economic development, etc. The "Development Services" department was the group that took in the permits or other applications including engineering, fire reviews, whatever. They entered it in the database and routed it to the right people for review and finally collected any fees. I'm sure I'm missing something from their work, but they were basically the secretaries of the development department. We didn't take anything in the name to mean we work for developers or cater to them (we did, but that was a political problem).
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    My last city in Arizona called the total department "Community Development" Planners, permit techs, building inspectors, economic development, etc. The "Development Services" department was the group that took in the permits or other applications including engineering, fire reviews, whatever. They entered it in the database and routed it to the right people for review and finally collected any fees. I'm sure I'm missing something from their work, but they were basically the secretaries of the development department. We didn't take anything in the name to mean we work for developers or cater to them (we did, but that was a political problem).
    What DVD said. We are the same way, in both municipalities I worked in. The term "development services" is a catchall to make it seem like its a one-stop, streamlined process for developers, homeowners, etc.
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  4. #4
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    It is common in the south and southwest.

    I have steadfastly refused to change our department's name to "Development Services". Keeping it in the name reminds customers that we serve the citizens & public first. It is simply named the Planning Department, but includes all development & building functions. I've suggested a name change to "Planning & Building Department."

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  5. #5
    Cyburbian AG74683's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Raf View post
    What DVD said. We are the same way, in both municipalities I worked in. The term "development services" is a catchall to make it seem like its a one-stop, streamlined process for developers, homeowners, etc.
    This is exactly what it is, and I should know because I'm an NC planner. My department is still the "Planning Department" but I'm housed within the Central Permitting Office which houses planning, building inspections, and environmental health. It's strictly for one stop purposes, to give the public one line of contact rather than a jumble of departments to call.

    Lately, I've noticed a somewhat alarming trend where these "development service" departments begin to encompass everything from planning/zoning, to building inspections, and in some cases even environmental health. I know of several jurisdictions where the Planning Director is also the director in charge of those departments (and in one case nearby, the transportation director for county bus services, etc.). I don't like this, specifically because planners generally don't have the knowledge I think is necessary to both manage and direct an inspections department or EH. I attended several building classes a few years ago after an inspector passed away unexpectedly and there was one PD in there specifically because she recently absorbed the inspections department and felt she needed to at least secure level 1 inspections certificates for her to feel comfortable with the inspectors. This arrangement isn't limited to small jurisdictions either, everything seems to be going this way. The whole "one stop shop" mantra is a big deal here, and administration is similarly interested in one line of contact rather than 3 or 4 separate department heads.

    NC is a great place to live and work. We are the 12th largest state according to both the 2010 census and the 2017 estimate, and we are also ranked 12th in population change (up nearly 8% in the last 7 years). There is literally everything you could ask for here, from the mountains to the beach, we have it. I'm fond of the Greensboro area, mostly because it's the nearest to me, but even from the 'Boro, you're only about an hour and a half away from Charlotte and Raleigh.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    A few weeks ago, we took a family trip down from the NYC area to the vicinity of Greensboro, NC recently so that my little guy could spend time with grandma. It's a lovely area. Quality of life seems high, people are friendly, the pace is slower, and examples of good planning can be found. I've worked my entire career in the urban northeast and am a dyed in the wool yankee, but for curiosity's sake, I had a look at a few job postings in NC. Life in the megalopolis is often exhausting, and we could have a pretty nice lifestyle down there. Upon poking around online, I noticed that the planning function is typically housed within a "development services" department.

    Anyone know why this is the case? I must admit that this trips off a few alarm bells - is planning seen as ancillary to the real estate development community in the south? In the planning cultures that I've worked within, planning (ideally) does not serve the development community's interest exclusively, but promotes a broader conception of the public interest, which may in cases be very much at odds with the short-term needs of the development community.

    Maybe I am reading way too much into this. I looked up a few communities in SC and GA and saw the same thing - Planning is housed within the Department of Development Services. It's just a framing that I'm a little uncomfortable with.

    Am I crazy? Any insight on this would be great.
    Just be quiet and entitle the 3000 home subdivision and make sure the there are 6 different floor plans with 3 elevations each. Double check the set backs, review the landscape plan and make sure the pocket park can adequately handle the run off. Once you are done with that you have 14 sign applications to process.

    In the Southwest, planners are the ascetic police and site plan review tech's for 80% of their work which is why they call it development services. To answer your question planning is not seen as ancillary but an obstacle to development.
    "You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it,..." -Bane

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