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2017-07-12 / Real Estate

Few weigh in on county’s next planning director

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

Given an opportunity to provide input about the knowledge, skills and abilities they’d like the county’s next planning director to possess, only a handful of citizens chose to participate.

As part of the recruitment process, the county hosted a focus group session last week to engage Chesterfield residents and get a better sense of what they expect from the person hired to succeed the departing Kirk Turner.

Turner, who was named planning director in 2004, has been selected to lead the newly formed Community Enhancement Department.

The county began a national search for Turner’s replacement May 2. The application period closed June 2 and yielded 19 candidates from Virginia, other parts of the country and outside the U.S.

A selection panel will conduct interviews and compile a list of finalists, who will be offered a second interview with County Administrator Joe Casey, Deputy County Administrator Bill Dupler and Director of Economic Development Garrett Hart.

Casey will hire the new planning director in consultation with the Board of Supervisors.

The county has conducted similar focus group sessions with staff, members of the Planning Commission and local real estate developers.

“Given the nature of the job, we decided to also reach out to the community and see what we should be looking for in the next planning director,” Dupler said at the outset of last week’s meeting. “We will take all of your comments into consideration.”

Those who participated in the focus groups had plenty to say about how planning staff interacts with the public.

Chester resident Judy Stoneman suggested the next planning director must be responsive to citizens’ concerns about zoning cases, rather than advocating on behalf of developers and creating an unnecessarily adversarial environment.

“The person who comes into this position has a mountain to climb like nobody before,” she said. “If he or she is going to hear the voice of the citizens and represent them effectively, it has to be someone with strong integrity. Without trust, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”

Phil Lohr, a longtime member of the local group Chesterfield Citizens for Responsible Government, said the successful candidate needs to improve communication with citizens and do more to solicit their feedback on cases that could negatively affect their quality of life.

“Take the meeting tonight,” he added. “This is an important meeting. There should be more than four or five people here. It’s hard to get people to participate, so you have to work hard at it.”

According to Mary Martin Selby, human resources director for the county, a new hire is expected by early September.

For citizens who still wish to provide input, an online questionnaire is available through 5 p.m. July 17 at www.chesterfield.gov/planningdirector. 

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