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Describe your biggest Planning Mistakes

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23
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Describe the biggest mistake you've ever made as a planner. I made my first big one of my career this past week. Applicant asked for 10 dwell/acre and I mistakenly put 12 on the transmittal to state and somehow it got passed that way. Even though app only asked for 10, now they get two free.
 

Richmond Jake

You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!
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18,286
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43
My biggest mistake: majoring in planning at college rather than biology or biotechnology.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
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10,624
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34
live and learn

Mine was leaving a Directors position (which I landed at age 24!) for a private sector job running the Wisconsin land development division of a national home builder. Everything was about the $numbers$, not about what was RIGHT to do. I had to look my planning peers in the eye, and screw them and their communities for the sake of profit. Needless to say, I was out in a year, and I was lucky enough to land another Directors job in a fantastic community with a proactive Council. Now I love to watch that company SINK SINK SINK for a multitude of reasons which I will avoid discussing. It amused me to this day that they never remove their website's employment add for "planning and development manager". It shows they can't keep one!

www.brookstonehomes.com
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
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5,984
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29
I went to work for a small private planning and engineering firm. It seemed so much more dynamic than the government side of the house. They were our consultant. I was lured in by the pace, the friendly people, and the promise of learning a lot in a short time. The money was not that much of an increase, but I did learn quite a bit of planner craft there.

The job also had a very dark side. I latter realized I had been hustled just like we did to our clients: Promise the moon – yet stay vague – and deny you ever promised anything outside of the contract once it has been signed. Then we would spend our time trying to get new contracts instead of finishing the work we had. A co-worker once told me Lawyers, Architects and Planning Consultants have no reason to ever finish anything. They just keep billing. He was so right. You can keep a firm afloat for years on up-front money - I saw it happen.

Once I was in the firm, I learned that it was basically a cult of personality. If you sold your soul to the boss/owner - you were rewarded. He would screw with people just to stroke his enormous ego. He would tell people he was screwing with them just for his amusement while he was actually screwing with them. He even wanted people to speak a silly little language of his own invention when talking to him. If you kissed his arse you were well rewarded. He was even allegedly sleeping with some planning staff members. He couldn't keep a promise, and was pilfering money from the employee IRA accounts. I quit when I found out about the thefts. He denied stealing the money at first and then blamed the secretarial staff. A true low life. Even evil Catbert in the Dilbert comic strip could learn a thing or two from this guy.

All in all, my advice is to thoroughly investigate both private and governmental organizations to the best of your ability before jumping in. Even then it is crap shoot.

Never love your job or your comfort more than your ethics.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,831
Points
59
El Guapo said:
Never love your job or your comfort more than your ethics.
Unfortunately, that attitude costs a lot of planners their jobs, in both the public and private sector. Planners gripe about this among themselves, but why is this never given more than a casual mention publically, at planning conferences or in print, I'll ever know.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
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5,984
Points
29
Dan,
Are you suggesting that we roll over? Maybe I'm missing your point. If I am, I’m sorry.

It’s not just in the planning field - but in all aspects of life were we have to choose between comfort and self respect. Some times we compromise - who doesn't. But, in the El Grande scheme of things, sometimes it is a measure of the depth of character of an individual to say "I cannot be a part of this – goodbye."

Perhaps we have too few planners willing to call the Ryder Truck Company and make a reservation? Will one planner leaving make a difference? I don’t know – but too that planner, I’d bet having a measure of self respect is far more comforting on their deathbed than any thing earned by a life of compromise.

Just my opinion.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,831
Points
59
Although I haven't called Ryder, one time early in my career I packed all my belongings into a couple dozen boxes, UPSed 'em off, and drove back to the place I call "home home."

I, personally, won't roll over. I've been picking and choose my battles more carefully, though. I find it depressing, though, to think that so many planners have lost their idealism, and think of the profession as just a job; that they have become just another bureaucrat. I also am frustrated to hear stories about planning directors who have turned into what they despised most a few years earlier.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,624
Points
34
Cheers El Guapo!

El Guapo, you cheer me up! Glad to see there is someone out there voicing the same moral standards. I say we all celebrate with a "Cyburbia Planning Peeves" social hour at April's APA conference! LOL! I'm buying the first round!
 

BKM

Cyburbian
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6,464
Points
29
I'm not sure after ten years I am that idealistic anymore. I still believe that there is a "public good," and that the role of our profession is to "help" define that public good.

What I am less certain about is that we as a profession always know what that good is. Planning as a profession, as does architecture, loves to chase trends and ideologies. In other words, although it may be easy to become angry when our ideas are ignored by decision makers, given the history of horrible ideas promoted by "progressive" architects and planners over the past 50 years or so, maybe the "real world" people on our boards and commissions are not so far off after all?

So, I guess I have "sold out" to say that I don't get in a huff as much as I used to. Does that mean I don't have ideals? No. And, I would never support doing something outright illegal or clearly immoral. But, lose a job over a project that ing in on doesn't agree with my ideology about what a "good design" or a good place is, probably not.

I'm babbling a bit, and this thread has evolved a little beyond the original intent.

Brian
 
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3,690
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27
El Guapo, your story isn't that far off from a planner friend of mine who was lured away from the public sector with the glittery promises of the private sector and ended up at a firm that never invested a dime of their 401K money, just illegally reinvested in the company, only to leave that firm for another one that routinely demanded 90+ hour workweeks. His wife threatened to leave if he didn't start cutting back. So he left and is happily entrenched again in the public sector. Hmm. maybe this too belongs on another thread.
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,406
Points
32
Re: Cheers El Guapo!

bturk said:
El Guapo, you cheer me up! Glad to see there is someone out there voicing the same moral standards. I say we all celebrate with a "Cyburbia Planning Peeves" social hour at April's APA conference! LOL! I'm buying the first round!
You know, some sort of get together at national doesn't sound like a bad idea.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
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5,984
Points
29
My mistake was not a planning procedural mistake as was suggested by the original poster - but the mistake of allowing myself to be sold on the glitter of a particular firm. I have no doubt that the private sector has something to offer every planner sometime in their career. Perhaps your time in the public sector will just reinforce how nice governmental employment can be for a planner. I am a better planner for the experience and I may someday return to the private sector or start my own firm. But while I came away from the experience with my values intact I was also a bit shell shocked by the naked aggression of it all. The Lord of the Flies comes to mind.

The saving grace of the entire situation was that a friend, who is a senior planner and who had far more experience, taught me so much by his example and his sage advice throughout my affair with the private sector. If I was out there totally alone I may have given up the field and gone back to GIS (heaven help me). I owe this man much.

He also introduced me to this fine oracle of knowledge, Cyberbia- thanks Dan.

I am also not suggesting that sometime compromising is “selling out.” I know you don’t fight every battle – you can’t. I have sucked it up plenty of times. I am no one’s example of the morally perfect man. But, I am saying that you always need to have the mind set that “This place doesn’t own me – I work on my terms.” I guess I read too much Ayn Rand in my youth. Don't tell my Priest!

I work for a small agency that doesn’t have much of a budget, but if I can make it to national I’ll hoist a brew with you folks. I'll be the guy in the Sombrero!

3 rules:
Never take a look down the barrel to see what is wrong!
Never let the savings get below the cost of a Ryder truck and the fuel to get home.
Never upset your folks - you may need a place to live!
 
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boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,890
Points
26
I know why i am a planner. Because i could not stand watching incompitent boobs who are only concerned with the vote of their ward rather than the diversity and health of the community they live in. I have a problem, I think i'm smarter than the general citizen. Not in a cocky way, but in a way that will create, in my eyes, a utilitarium society. That ain't gonna happen. But in my young planning career I havn't let downfalls discourage me one bit. I am going to keep pursuing what i believe is the correct course of management of the city.

I can't stand those people who complain about every little investment the city makes, every new plan, no growth is the only growth we want.

Well, lets see. If my body is a city, and i quit 'growing it' by reading, learning, exposing myself to culture, experiancing ne things, etc. i'm going to shrivel up, become close minded, and get stupid. Isn't there research that if you don't keep your mind active, you'll loose your memory? your brain degrades in function? The same thing happens to cities(generally). You have to have growth, steady growth at a pace the city can manage. Explosive growth is bad, no growth is bad.

Peoria has done many things to revive itself over the last 20 years. People complained the downtown was empty, nothing to do. So they envisioned a multi-purpose civic center that in 1980 dollars cost $65 million. There was upheavel, dispute, it was approved. It has proved it's worth in gold, paying for itself 10 times over. An initiative was started to reivive the riverfront area of downtown, again, SSDD. It is now a glorious riverfront park with tourism, restuarnts, boat slips, etc.. A great place to go to. Now, we are inserting a New minor league baseball stadium on the fringe of downtown, SSDD, it is almost complete but will be a great addition to a growing downtown area. Downtown is filling up slowly with small shops, resturants, and some new construction may take place to add more residential towers.
From what i hear though, there is still nothing to do downtown, and paying .35 cents an hour for parking is too much.

My worst error was approving the zoning on a car-port for a home that was in the setback area.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
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10,080
Points
34
Yeah, I went to work in the private sector for about 7-8 months. Other than that, I can't think of a single mistake I've ever maid.
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
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7,903
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35
Michael Stumpf: "Yeah, I went to work in the private sector for about 7-8 months. Other than that, I can't think of a single mistake I've ever maid".

'cept maybe spelling it "maid", instead of "made"?
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,831
Points
59
Seeing the "Planning Mistakes" thread come up, I recalled the first biggie I made, only a couple of months ago.

I think every planner involved in development review has done this before -- setback goofs. I was swamped, with a pile of building permits for single family homes stacked high on my desk, along with other "gotta' do it this week" types of tasks -- stuff that makes for a 60 hour work week where, after it's over, you still feel like you got nothing accomplished.

I checked all the permit applications and plans, making sure everything was kosher -- drainage, finished floor elevation, corner elevations, sidewalk plans, drainfield locations, that the elevations matched the footprints, and so on. Except ... the side yard setback for one spec home. Side yard setback should have been 7.5'. This one got away with a 5' setback on one side. It wasn't caught until the foundation was poured. Oops. In my career as a planner, I've reviewed plans for thousands of houses. I reject about a third of the building permit applications I get. This was the first time ... ever ... that this happened.

So, what to do? In the past, I've made builders chop off parts of houses that encroached into the setback, but this time I felt I was partly to blame for this, having approved the permit. Still, that doesn't justify a variance. Wait ... the house on the other side ... 12' setback, and it was still owned by the builder. REPLAT!

Phwew. My pride took a big beating, but in the end, it turned out okay. I still feel bad about it, though.

The big picture, though ... I've got a town with a commercial slate that's pretty much clean. Down the road a couple of miles is Development From Hell ... mostly small lot auto-related and trade uses aplenty, with absolutely no architectural design or access control. It's creeping this way, and most of the development inquiries I get are for similar uses -- auto dealers, mini-storage, flexi-space for mechanical trades, and so on.

This is a historic town where new houses sell from $150,000 to $600,000; and a strong sense of community identity and place. We've got tough architectural design, signage, landscaping and site planning standards. However, excepting VTDs and income we don't meet the criteria site placement specialists look for when determining potential locations for quality restaurants and retail -- no sewer, no daytime employment, no consumer-oriented retail. What's knocking at our door? Auto and motorcycle dealers -- pounding, as a matter of fact. It's as if we're destined to become the Orlando area's newest auto row, something the residents and town leaders definitely don't want. I'm rewriting the town's development regulations, and there's a moratorium on vehicle-related uses in place. If the town ends up developing as auto row, though ... well, that'll be a huge failure on my part. The destiny of a town laid in my hands, and I couldn't do anything to change its path ... if that happened, it would be time to seriously reexamine the planning profession, and my role in it.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,984
Points
29
I screwed the pooch also

Dan,
In a case where I made the mistake I just made a note by placing a letter in the file that the fault was that of myself and that because it would be an unfair burden on the landowner, because they were relying on the staff's expertise in the matter, we let the mistake stand. It was a setback from a county road.

If anyone ever said "well you let so-and-so do it" we would have the letter in the file to pull out and show them. It seemed to work. Of course I'm 375.2 miles and three years from there now.
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
Messages
7,903
Points
35
I guess my worst mistake would have been the time I didn't ask for a Traffic Impact Study for a new commercial development - it was right on the threshold of really needingone, but I let it slide (as did my boss). There have been some problems at the access, and the developer has had to hire paid-duty police at times to control traffic entering and exiting the site. A traffic signal would probably have helped at this location, though there were some problems with that (developer not wanting to spend $$, proximity to railway tracks, etc.).

Within six months of being completed, half of the development started sinking into the "loonshit" ( former bog/swamp) upon which it was built...but that wasn't my fault!
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,406
Points
32
On my first day here I allowed a manufactured home to be placed on concrete pads in a zone that did not allow it. In my own defense this requirment is buried in the municipal code quite deeply, but I still should have caught it. I handle such things about the same way as El Guapo. My mistake, not theirs they get a free one. That was four years ago and still when I deny one, the applicant says "what about that one on Grimes"....and I have to revisit the whole mess again.
 

nerudite

Cyburbian
Messages
6,544
Points
30
Lemon yellow eyesore...

A stereo business in Vancouver, WA wanted to expand their building to house a separate business (an auto lube place). However, there wasn't enough room for ADA requirements, parking, etc for an auto lube business. So after reviewing the project and going over all of the scenarios I met with the applicant and said that it was heading toward denial. They decided to change the project description to make the addition an installation area for the car stereos the main business sells. Although I saw through this ruse, there wasn't much I could do about it. So I approved the revised application.

After the addition was built, it was pretty obvious that it was a separate business (although not an auto lube place). The addition was painted a hideous lemon yellow color, which was a total eyesore to the surrounding neighborhood (yes, and there was a house directly adjacent to this business). In enforcing the illegal business, one of the stipulations we put on the correction notice was that the building needed to be painted all one color and should not have separate signage. Well... needless to say, the owner (who was quite ticked) decided that, instead of painting the addition the nice muted beige color of the original building, he would paint the main part of the building lemon yellow with a jaunty aqua colored trim. I have since learned to be much more specific in my direction on enforcement actions.

For anyone that ever has to drive down Mill Plain Boulevard and see that monstrosity, I apologize profusely!
 

Mastiff

Gunfighter
Messages
7,181
Points
30
Re: Lemon yellow eyesore...

nerudite wrote:
For anyone that ever has to drive down Mill Plain Boulevard and see that monstrosity, I apologize profusely!
Damn... you did that? Wow.
 

Mary

Member
Messages
127
Points
6
I may have to go look for it the next time I'm up around my old stomping grounds.
 

gkmo62u

Cyburbian
Messages
1,046
Points
24
big mistake: presenting a project in one electoral district when it was actually in another (map was wrong). the elected official was quite upset he did not get the opportunity to make the motion to deny the project.

On the other broader topic, I find it interesting that so many on this board are so quick to ring their hands of private sector work.

Two years ago I left a senior level public planning job for a large regional developer to manage their local government land agenda: legislative, administrative etc...

I think its the best decision I have ever made. I think every public sector planner should get some experience on this side--and not as a consultant, but for a developer. Understanding the dollar side of the equation, what makes developers tick, is going to make me an even better public sector planner--if I ever go back.

There are developers out there trying to do things right. Yes, profit margin will always be a driving factor, and it should be--just ask the new urbanist trying to find first floor retail users...

Maybe it is inevitable, but one of the reasons I left the public sector was because I felt these was this institutional and pervasive antipathy for not only developers but property owners in the juristiction in which I worked.

I think that is awful. Like it or not, the developer is the one risking capital, creating jobs, giving us places to live, work , and play...the process should be fair, a balencing of the public interest and the rights of the private property. I think the pendulum has swung too far way from the rights of the property owner.

So. Anybody who is considering jumping the proverbial ship, feel free to contact me.
 

NHPlanner

Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator
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Moderator
Messages
9,889
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38
gkmo62u wrote:
I think the pendulum has swung too far way from the rights of the property owner.
It depends where you are. There are many places out there where property rights are still king, and triumph over any "government intrustion."

Even at a scale as small as NH, where I live and work....the northern part is still no zoning, let the market rule for the most part, while the southern tier struggles with growth management, sprawl, and keeping up with infrastructure to support the growth we're experiencing.

I definitely think you can find both ends of the property rights spectrum in many places all over the country. The great planner answer applies here, like it does in almost every situation...."It depends..."
 

gkmo62u

Cyburbian
Messages
1,046
Points
24
you are right, i meant in there area i am working in. but i do think the national anti-sprawl, no growth movements--including our own APA Growing Smart initiative--seriously endangers many of the personal property rights we have assumed up to this point.
 
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3,690
Points
27
George, I agree one hundred percent that working both sides of the private/public spectrum makes for a better planner. I think, though, that most of the planners who don't have tremendously supportive things to say about consulting are speaking from a "been there, done that" point of view.

I also agree with NH Planner that property owner rights significantly vary according to geography. Development in Rural South Carolina is a totally different ball game than where I'm working now.
 
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