Friday, March 13, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Ott splits Planning & Development Review Dept.

Like the couple that marries and divorces but marries again only to divorce a few years later, the Planning and Development Review Department is once again being broken into a neighborhood planning department and a development review department.

In a memo to Mayor and Council released this afternoon, City Manager Marc Ott said that in the next few weeks he would be separating PDRD’s functions into two individual departments: the Planning and Zoning Department and the Development Review Department.

The last time the two departments were separate was 2010, when the development review function was taken from a department that included the Watershed Protection Department. Approximately five years before that, a different department with similar functions dealt with development review and permitting.

Greg Guernsey, director of PDRD, will continue as director of the Planning and Zoning Department and Rodney Gonzales will become acting director of the new Development Review Department. Gonzales has been deputy director of the Economic Development Department and has led various successful initiatives over the last nine years.

In the memo, Ott explained that he and his team have been considering the change for several months. “A number of considerations led to this course of action, including an anticipated increase in workload, the upcoming implementation of the Zucker Report recommendations, and the need to continue our focus on simplifying our land development code via the CodeNEXT process. Further, this change will help us better facilitate the current restructuring of the Council agenda toward a separate focus on zoning cases.”

Gonzales will take over the heavily criticized permit center, plan review functions, subdivision review, residential and commercial review and all mechanical reviews and inspections, according to Ott. As director of that department, Gonzales will be asked to deal with the more difficult part of what has become a source of great frustration and controversy for citizens, developers and city staff.

The memo indicates that the two departments will continue to share existing administrative functions. Ott said, “It should be noted that the permitting review and inspection process extends beyond the current functions of PDRD. Other departments, including Austin Energy, (Austin Fire Department), Austin Water, etc., are involved in review and inspection. As such, I will also be examining these groups for any potential processing. ”

In a news release issued about the same time as the memo, Ott remarked, “Providing consistency and clarity in the planning and development process has been a critical area of focus for me, and for the team, over the past few years. It’s clear to me that — in order to effectively oversee the kind of transformation we need — the two functions need individual and separate attention.”


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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City Manager Marc Ott: Ott was hired by Council members in 2008 and served in that position until his 2016 departure.

Planning and Development Review: The Planning and Development Review Department is responsible for Austin's city planning, preservation, and design. The department also provides development review and inspection services for the city.

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