The City of Victor is yet again back to square one with its planning department, as planning and zoning director Ryan Krueger, who started work in January of this year, gave his notice to the city on July 29. Krueger will be going to work in Bozeman with the private firm Intrinsik Architecture, and he’s taking assistant planner Tyler Steinway with him.
“Ryan and Tyler have done a phenomenal job and are leaving Victor a better place. We’re happy and proud of the work they’ve done and sincerely wish them the best,” Victor city manager Olivia Goodale told the Teton Valley News last Tuesday.
Krueger and Steinway are not the first Victor planners to answer the siren call of greener pastures. Brittany Skelton, who served Victor from 2013 to 2016, is now the senior planner for the City of Ketchum. Jason Boal, who was the Victor planner for eight months, and Josh Wilson, who made it a year and a half, both relocated to work in Ada County.
“That tells us we’re on to something,” Goodale said. “We’re lucky to work with great planners, and that means sometimes they get recruited by much bigger cities.”
One of the principals at Intrinsik has long been Krueger’s mentor and friend, and Krueger said he had applied for a job at Intrinsik out of graduate school. He also wrote his thesis on affordable housing in Gallatin County, Montana. During discussions, he learned that Intrinsik had another position open and that Steinway “had the skillset that matched.”
Steinway completed two internships with the city while he was in college. The city hired him part-time in 2017 after he graduated, then promoted him to full-time assistant planner last year.
Krueger has presided over some significant projects in his short tenure. He is currently working with the city council and planning and zoning commission to modify development standards for large nonresidential applications and pass an interim ordinance to prohibit any commercial and industrial buildings over 30,000 square feet. He is overseeing the most recent attempt to open a Victor Broulim’s. Notably, in March he made the decision that the city, not the developer, would be the applicant for a contentious rezone on the north side of town.
The watchdog nonprofit Valley Advocates for Responsible Development has since filed for a judicial review of the city council’s rezone approval, citing improper communication between city staff and the developer, among other reasons.
Teton County has struggled in the past with planner turnover, but the current planning department has been in place for almost two years. Driggs has the most continuity in the valley; one former planner is now the community development director, and while Driggs did lose a planner, Ashley Koehler, in 2018, another member of the department succeeded her. Tetonia does not employ a planner, but just this week the Tetonia City Council approved a contract with Koehler to update the land use code and serve on an as-needed basis.
“This high turnover creates a lack of continuity, a short institutional memory, and a broad disconnect between planners and the community they serve, as evidenced by recent high conflict development proposals in Victor,” said Shawn Hill, the executive director of VARD.
As an example, Hill said that the much-maligned Meadows development, a cluster of small homes on Highway 31 in Victor, happened because one planner inherited another’s project and “had to approve the mistakes a prior planner made.”
Krueger explained that he and Steinway have been working to leave a robust paper trail on all projects that have crossed their desks.
“That makes it transparent,” he said. “It should be pretty easy for the next planner to suss out what’s going on.”
The City of Victor is now asking itself how to retain planners.
“Is there some way we can compete with recruiters? Our pay, benefits, and paid time off are competitive and we have great office culture,” Goodale said. “We’re largely there, so what can we do to put the icing on the cake?”
Hill estimates that planners across the valley make between $50,000 and $70,000 per year depending on experience. (The city later informed the TVN that the top of its planner pay range is $79,000.)
“In other resort towns salaries are typically higher than in Teton Valley,” Hill said. “We have the same growth issues without the same level of affluence.”
Krueger said he had already been headhunted a few times during his time with the city.
“I firmly turned down their overtures,” he said. “But when your mentor approaches you…”
Hill noted that headhunting for planners is rampant right now.
“Development is taking off across the country,” he said. “Combined with a mass exodus of retiring baby boomer planners, you have a perfect storm, so it’s not surprising that planner poaching is happening.”
Before Krueger was hired, Koehler also did contract planning work for Victor. While Steinway’s last day will be in mid-August, Krueger gave Victor three months of notice, so Goodale does not know at this time if contract services will be necessary.
“The sky isn’t falling,” she said. “We’re going to take our time and enter the recruitment process strategically. Building government never really ends, we just keep refining.”