Municipalities prepare for loss of access to state planners

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 7:44pm

The Nashville-based Greater Nashville Regional Council is considering adding planners to its staff roster in an effort to fill the void of the soon-to-be-dissolved Local Planning Assistance Office of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

The office, planners at which traditionally have assisted municipalities that don’t have planning staffs, is slated to end operations by mid-July. It has had 38 community planners of late, according to Mark Drury, ECD spokesman.

Tim Roach, GNRC deputy executive director for research, planning and development, said the group is contacting its 52 municipalities in 13 counties, gauging their interest in the entity’s assuming a new role of sorts.

“We’ve started conservations with our mayors,” Roach said. “We’re going to do what they want us to do.”

Roach said members responses are “skewed toward [GNRC] having planning services. We’ll have conversations with our board. And we’re having budget discussions. It seems a natural extension of what we do for [members].”

Drury said ECD is maintaining a core group of approximately 10 planning veterans to assist client communities in transitioning to other options for planning assistance. ECD will help communities obtain services from a private company or a development district or “even reach cooperative agreements with other communities to share the cost of a full-time planner,” he said.

Drury said the state has contracts with 212 government entities, including those in both cities and counties. The only Davidson County contracts are with the cities of Berry Hill and Forest Hills.

ECD is cutting the office as part of the agency’s “top-to-bottom review,” Drury said. ECD was asked to look at all aspects of the agency's function and determine whether the function is better handled by a state agency, local government or the private sector, he added.

“Only three other states handle land-use planning at the state level,” Drury said. “The next largest state employs only 12 people in that function. Tennessee's largest and smallest communities did not utilize the service. It was primarily used by medium-sized communities, and their contracts only covered approximately 60 percent of the cost of a planner.”

Joe Baker, manager of the City of Berry Hill, said his municipality has used ECD’s Local Planning Assistance Office “for the last several job and we’ve been pleased with their assistance.”

“It’s a good deal for a small city,” Baker said. “We did our local development code (instituted in January 2010) using both ECD and a private planning company. We have been very pleased.”