the future of ypsilanti’s office of planning and development

I don’t have a lot of time to put it in context, but I wanted to at least pass along the link to today’s Ann Arbor News article on the current state of Ypsialnti’s Planning and Development Office. Here’s how it begins (cue sad music):

On March 3, the city of Ypsilanti’s planning and development department will drop to a single staff member, down from four just a couple of months ago, because staffers are leaving the city to take jobs elsewhere.
Two of the three jobs will be replaced, but the city has decided to drop the department from four to three positions because of city financial problems. Even the temporary cutback is casting a shadow over a city banking on development projects as a path to future revenues.

“We will not be able to respond to development projects as quickly,” said Nathan Voght, a planner who will be the only employee left in the department. “It may mean loss of (development) opportunities for the city.”

Planning and Development Director Megan Gibb left Feb. 13 to take a job in Portland, Ore. Brett Lenart, the city’s redevelopment coordinator, left Jan. 9 to work for Washtenaw County. Karen Weaver, also a planner, is leaving March 3 to take a job with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments in Detroit and said part of the reason for her decision is the city’s financial uncertainty.

Struggling with diminishing revenues from the state and industry losses, the city has cut spending annually for the past five years to balance the budget. The latest round of cuts, approved by the City Council on Thursday, includes dropping the size of the planning department from four employees to three for next year…

I don’t really know enough about the Planning and Development Office to say one way or the other whether they have been doing a good job for Ypsilanti. I haven’t checked out the other local blogs yet today, but I’m sure that you can find quite a few people out there leaving comments and taking pot shots at the crew that’s leaving (and speculating as to why it is that Nathan Voght hasn’t been able to find a job elsewhere). The comments might very well might be deserved. I can’t say. Not knowing any of them or what they did, all I have judge them by are the two big economic development failures that have made the papers – the mess that is/was the Water Street Development (PDF) and the fact that the Visteon plant closed — and it’s unclear to me how much blame these four individuals really deserve for those (especially the Visteon closing). I’m sure they’ve had successes over the past few years too, but, unfortunately, they don’t come to mind as readily as the failures.

The only thing that I have to contribute to the dialog is this one thought:

I’m wondering how much redundancy there would be between our Planning and Development Office (when fully staffed again) and Ann Arbor Spark, the new economic development organization being built-up from what was once the Washtenaw Development Council? I’m not suggesting that we dismantle whatever operation we still have, and put our destiny in the hands of a group situated in Ann Arbor, however, it occurs to me that there might be some synergies and an opportunity for cost savings if we join forces. Like I said, however, I’m not really up to speed on how such things work. It just seems to me that if we’ve got a large operation in Ann Arbor working to attract business, grow companies, and attract/retain talent, that it might be easier to have a dedicated Ypsi person or two on their staff rather than have three or four sitting in offices here, waiting for people to respond to our “Hipsilanti” ad campaigns. (Sorry, that was a cheap shot.) My guess, and I could be wrong about this, is that we’d be privy to more development deals if we were there, leveraging the Ann Arbor brand for all that it’s worth. (I’m not suggesting that we in any way defer to Ann Arbor. I just think that we need to recognize that when it comes to business, Ann Arbor is the primary regional attractor. And we should use that as much as we possibly can.) Anyway, I think it’s worth considering.

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14 Comments

  1. Dr Cherry
    Posted February 21, 2006 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Ypsilanti could raise a little money with a Cheryl Farmer vs. Barry LaRue cagematch. Lee Tooson will referee.

    How about a DDA dunk tank? $10 to stick a pie in the mayor’s face.

    I’m fulla ideas.

  2. Hillary
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    I’m kind of surprised by the number of people still being paid in Ypsilanti. Hamtramck has no Planning Department. The “form-based” zoning ordinance elimated the need for a planner. The DDA was disbanded by the Emergency Financial Manager, but has recently been reformed.

    All city boards, including the DDA, are manned by unpaid volunteers. City Council members are paid 2% of the governors salary (about $3540); the Mayor is paid 4%. Hamtramck has a large number of unpaid Police Reserves officers. The EFM is still trying to force the firefighters union to accept part-timers without benefits.

  3. murph
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    So, having talked with all of the members of the Ypsi Planning Dept. in the past little while (and with various other people _about_ them), I gather that the reason several of them are leaving is because the City went through a phase of saying, “Oh, well, we might cut all your jobs six months from now, or we might not. But we’re not going to worry about figuring that out right now; we’ll let you know when it happens.” This atmosphere is, naturally, one in which almost anybody would start looking for a different job.

    I gather than Voght is staying because he’s just too darn loyal to think about jumping ship – and because he’s the one who reviews site plans and rezonings and does all of the other core legal requirements work of a planning department, so his job would be the last to go. (And the work would end up being outsourced to a consultant, rather than eliminated.) Hillary mentions that Hamtramck has no “planning department”, but they still have somebody who does “planning and zoning administration”. I forget his name, but I think his title is Community Development something or another.

    “Hipsilanti” is the DDA’s work, afaik, and not the planning department’s – let’s keep our snark straight. And recall that Ypsi’s DDA Board (and A2’s) are unpaid volunteers, same as any other – unless, Hillary, you’re saying they don’t have any paid staff?

    There’s definitely an existing intent for a regional approach to economic development, whether in the form of WDC, the Spark, etc – Mark, I know very well that you’re aware the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce considers Ypsi part of its turf – weren’t you sitting next to me at their forum this fall? So far, though, I haven’t gotten the feeling that any of these groups treat Ypsi any differently than Scio, Pittsfield, Briarwood, or any other outlying area; my own personal feeling is that those deserve very different treatment.

  4. ingrid
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    The Ypsi DDA/DTDA board members may be unpaid but Ypsi is advertising for the new DDAs’ director, who will be paid.

  5. Hillary
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Murph: I’m sorry this is so involved, but everything involving Hamtramck politics is complicated.

    Hamtramck has not had a DDA at all in five years, but is in the process of reforming one now. The DDA board is trying to hire a “Downtown Manager”, but they’re having a hard time getting funding after the “streetscape” and parking “improvements” went so badly. The Council doesn’t want to give them the ability to sign contracts.

    The Planning Department doesn’t pay anyone. Our city regarded as planned. The zoning ordinance is very flexible and the building codes in Hamtramck are the minimum required by law, though strictly enforced these days. (All apartments must be inspected yearly.)

    Our Community and Economic Development Director, Erik Tungate, was hired 6 months ago as part of a reorganization due to voters passing a new Charter. For the previous five years, William Barnett was Deputy of the DPW and City Controller, Joe Sobota was Operations Director and assisant to Schimmel(EFM), and Jay Kennelly had at least 2 titles including Community and Economic Development Director. Even his secretary served as both Assesor and Jr. Accountant in Economic Development.

    Around the time the City Manager, Don Crawford, and Tungate were hired, Barnett, Sobota, and Kennelly were all fired, and their jobs were divided between Crawford and Tungate.

    The last 6 months, Tungate’s primary job has been to free up titles on 300 parcels of tax abandonded property in order to satisfy a judgement that requires Hamtramck to build 200 homes for people who were displaced by racially motivated eminent domain projects. Tungate has also been working on the policy for land sales, as the city has been prohibited from selling city owned property for 30 years, and will be able to sell land for the first time when the 200 houses are built. He is trying to get our industrial park certified by the state. He attends both community and regional meetings. He convinced Glory our doomed supermarket was worth investing in. He’s trying to convince more developers to build condos. I can’t complain about the job he’s doing.

    What’s going on in Ypsi? (honestly asking.)

  6. ingrid
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    The grass is taking root at the Water Street site.

  7. mark
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    We had a “serial face-stabber.” I think he’s been apprehended though.

  8. Hillary
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Wasn’t your serial face-stabber the guy that drove a stolen van from Ypsi to a beauty parlor in Hamtramck and slashed an 84-year-old woman in the face?

  9. mark
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    I hadn’t heard that, but I suppose it’s possible… As terrible as it is, it’s nice to have a story that connects my home town with yours.

  10. Hillary
    Posted February 22, 2006 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I found the story… not sure if the guy has been tried yet.

    http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/5518736/detail.html?rss=det&psp=news

  11. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted February 23, 2006 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    If there was only a bus running between Hamtramck and Ypsi, the face stabber would not have had to steal a van.

  12. Hillary
    Posted February 23, 2006 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Very true. He would have had to take the bus to Ann Arbor, and then a train to the station at Woodward. He could easily have walked the 3 miles from the train station to the beauty parlor.

  13. mark
    Posted February 23, 2006 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Let’s not talk about the serial face stabber any more.

  14. Posted March 14, 2006 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

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