Wednesday, December 12, 2007

City overhauls Planning Department

Former planning director set to return for new post

Express Staff Writer

Lisa Horowitz

The hierarchy is new, but the new employees are not.

Former Ketchum Planning Administrator Lisa Horowitz is returning to Ketchum City Hall as the city's new community and economic development director, and former planner Stefanie Webster returned late last month as city planner.

Both positions are new and underscore a transition in the way business will be conducted at Ketchum City Hall.

Ketchum officials on Monday unveiled the new organizational structure for the city's Planning Department. This structure, about two months in the making, creates a new Department of Community and Economic Development.

The new department is an umbrella that includes the planning and zoning, economic development, housing, strategic planning and special projects functions, such as planning for new hotels.

It is not to be confused with the Ketchum Community Development Corporation, which is a completely separate nonprofit entity that was created by the city a year and a half ago to serve in an advisory role and as advocate on a myriad of social, growth and planning related issues.

"This new department will consolidate some key planning functions and allow us to better respond to the issues facing us for the next decade," said Mayor Randy Hall. "In addition to these operational improvements this change is expense-neutral to the city's finances."

Hall explained that by eliminating the planning director position and folding the money the city has spent on Horowitz as a hotel consultant into the new positions, creation of the new department is a break-even proposition. Horowitz will make $121,000, and Webster has been brought on at $72,000.

"It's meant to lighten the load a little bit on the city administrator and also to allow the council and the mayor to have someone who can help them with their initiatives," Hall said. "The city administrator has been so buried in just managing the day-to-day operations of the city."

Hall said the city is modifying the structure to create a three-member cabinet that will serve the growing and complicated agenda facing the city. The team will consist of the city administrator, community and economic development director and city attorney.

The hope, Hall said, is that the team will bring balance and strength to the city's administration.

"We feel the functions of this department are so integral to our success that we want a close working relationship with the community and economic development director," said Councilman Baird Gourlay.

Horowitz, who will start Jan. 7, termed her new job opportunity "very exciting."

"The work in Ketchum is cutting edge as far as resort towns are concerned, so it's a very exciting opportunity, and we (she and her family) love the town.

"I think we need to have a focused strategy on economic development," she said. "We need to have a focused strategy on housing, on strategic planning, and to also make sure planning and zoning is running smoothly and moving forward.

Horowitz pointed out that the new organizational structure will provide a framework from which the city could, if future demand warrants, provide a springboard from which to build additional staffs in the arenas of affordable housing or economic development, as examples.

"We're trying to be able to think strategically," she said.

Within the new department day-to-day planning and zoning projects will be under Webster's purview as city planner.

The city planner is similar to the old planning director position, but with a more concentrated focus on the basic functions of development and subdivision review.

"Aligning these functions under a city planner allows that team to focus on quality and timely development review," Hall said. "As the city begins processing large and complicated projects, the city planner's office will ensure that our citizens in need of traditional planning reviews do not get overlooked."

Ketchum officials said the fact that both Horowitz and Webster have previously worked for the city will provide continuity and competence during the transition.

Horowitz, currently a consulting land-use planner, was the planning director from 1996 through 2002. She has provided consulting services to the city for the last three years, most recently in the capacity of overseeing the various new hotel applications through the process.

Horowitz has more than 23 years of land-use planning experience with a variety of governments and private sector clients.

Webster worked for the city from 2002 through 2006 in the planning department. Before returning to Ketchum late last month she worked for the Blaine County Planning Department for one and a half years serving as the lead planner on the complex Cove Springs development.

"I am delighted that we were able to recruit two such competent professionals who have a detailed knowledge of our community," said Councilman Ron Parsons. "We currently have numerous hotel proposals and a variety of other key planning issues facing the council and P&Z.

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