Mayor Ed Murray announced a new city department today that will plan for the city's booming development and growth. Wait, doesn't the city already have a department for this? Isn't it literally called the Department of Planning and Development? Yup.
But now the mayor is doing away with that department and replacing it with two new ones. Government!
The first new department will be called the Office of Planning and Community Development. That'll be home to DPD planners as well as planners currently working in a whole bunch of different city departments, like transportation and parks. The idea here is to make sure that the department planning for new buildings is also thinking about new parks, new bus stops, and new sidewalks for kids to walk to school. The new office doesn't yet have a director. The current DPD head, Diane Sugimura, will oversee the transition until she retires this fall. Then Murray will appoint a replacement.
The second new department—which, the mayor casually noted today, still doesn't have a name—will handle permits, building code enforcement, and inspections. DPD's deputy director, Nathan Torgelson, will head that office.
And with that, DPD will be dead.
We won't know just how many people will work in each of these new departments or how much the departments will cost until Murray sends a budget to the city council this fall. Since most of the employees will just be reshuffled from other city departments, "the budget should not be any significant increase," Murray said at a press conference this morning
Murray called the reorganization "a new approach to how this city manages and plans for growth."
"We have to get growth right," he said. "We have to get it right, right now."
(Another way we have to get growth right? Make sure people can afford to live here. Stay tuned on that.)
The Office of Planning and Community Development will also "act as a single point of contact" for
NIMBYs who want to complain residents with questions or concerns about planning and growth in the city, according to the mayor's office.
This sounds like a whole lot of bureaucracy for an unclear amount of actual, substantive change to how development happens in the city. It's like Murray is saying, "Freaking out about growth? Here, have a new layer of city government to calm you down."
But the mayor promised it's more than that. He even used a good ol' silo metaphor.
"We’re breaking down silos," Murray said. "We're breaking it down and putting people in the same place."
Thanks to all that working together, Murray says, the areas of the city experiencing significant growth will be planned better. Take, for example, development on 12th Avenue near Seattle University. Murray said that growth happened where the city hoped it would but "we didn't get the open space correct." As Ballard has grown, Murray said, the city "didn't get the transit right."
Murray said better planning could also help those situations in which development blocks sidewalks and pushes pedestrians into the street. Right nearby his City Hall press conference, on 5th Avenue, two major projects have blocked sidewalks on opposite sides of the street just a couple blocks apart. That requires pedestrians to criss-cross from one side to the other.
How, exactly, would this new office help? Would the city tell one of those developers to wait, a reporter asked. Murray didn't answer, saying only, "We need to get better at staging some of these things."
No word on whether we're any closer to requiring developers to create pedestrian-safe walkways when they need to close the sidewalk.