This week was all about planning. And after spending just a few short hours with the Town of Zebulon’s planning department, I quickly learned that it is one of the toughest jobs in a municipality. My week included code enforcement, permits, annexation discussions, downtown revitalization efforts, site plans, and a minimum housing tour. Zebulon also passed its budget this week with all the downtown revitalization measurements intact, woohoo!
Planners have the opportunity to have long term impact on a community and local economy – much more than other departments that interact with a population on a short term basis, i.e., solving immediate problems such as those done by fire, police, or even public works – but with that opportunity comes years of hard work and commitment to ordinances that often frustrate those you are trying to serve.
For those with a limited knowledge about planning departments, just know they are responsible for keeping things in order as development occurs throughout a community. When businesses come into town, or when companies perform work, or when citizens decide to upgrade their property, planners are there to make sure that things go according to plan. Pun intended. What the ordinances say, that’s how it has to be.
Here’s a few buzzwords if you’re interested in a minimal understanding about planning, or know a planner that you would like to strike up a conversation with: annexation, zoning/rezoning, code enforcement, high grass, technical review, use table, and setbacks. If you intend to use these for the latter purpose, you can always use the question “Shouldn’t there be a permit for that?” as an icebreaker.
When I stated that planning is one of the toughest jobs in a municipality, I meant it. Before this week, I never understood the patience and dedication the profession requires. Yes, there is a vast amount of technical knowledge necessary to be a successful planner. In addition to this though, you must be willing to long suffer through projects that take years, even decades, and may never come to fruition. And if that wasn’t enough, citizens often frown at the sight of you. They feel targeted when you tell them they have to pay a fee for a permit to put a shed on their property when they didn’t even know they needed a permit in the first place.
Basically, planning is hard work and I hope that as a future manager I keep in mind the experiences I have had this last week to ensure that those that I work with in my future administration feel valued.