The City of Victor is finding ways to cope with the departure of its entire planning department.
In the past few years, Victor has faced both a surge in development and rapid planner turnover. The staff and city council have been wrestling with how to address those issues in the short term. At the end of July, planning director Ryan Krueger and assistant planner Tyler Steinway informed city manager Olivia Goodale that they would be taking jobs at a private firm in Bozeman. Steinway has already finished out his time at the city, while Krueger will stay on until mid-October.
“We’re banging our heads against a wall trying to figure out how to keep a planning director more than 12 months,” Mayor Jeff Potter said at last week’s city council meeting.
Goodale noted that the recruitment process that netted Krueger took three rounds of applications and six months. Krueger started work in January of this year. Victor will again be contracting with former Driggs planning director Ashley Koehler to fill the gaps during the search for a new senior or junior planner. On Wednesday the council asked for a “more robust contract” with Koehler this time around in order to offer better customer service to citizens seeking permits or submitting land use applications. Previously Koehler has focused her limited time on big pre-existing projects and code updates.
“This will allow us to mitigate some of the impacts of turnover,” Potter said.
Last month Koehler, who left the City of Driggs in 2018, agreed to do contract work for the City of Tetonia as well.
“I’m happy to be able to meet the planning needs for the cities of Victor and Tetonia this way,” Koehler said on Thursday. “Contracting has allowed me to share my skills and experience with the other cities and I hope to offer greater consistency for the community, especially for the City of Victor.”
While city hall will be understaffed for the time being, the city will still undergo its transportation and comprehensive plan updates.
“It’s too important to let it go and delay it now,” Goodale said of the comprehensive plan review.
Victor has chosen Logan Simpson, a regional consulting team with local members, to lead the plan updates. Logan Simpson and a volunteer technical advisory committee will take on the bulk of the update work.
Another strategy the city is considering to manage growth actually came about before the news of Krueger and Steinway’s departure; Councilman Will Frohlich first proposed limiting large-scale commercial and industrial projects in May.
He suggested a moratorium on non-residential projects that were over 20,000 sq. ft., but the council and planning staff decided to pursue less extreme measures. The planning and zoning commission held a work session on the topic in July but soon decided the discussion would take longer than anticipated. That’s why the city staff has introduced a draft interim ordinance that prohibits any new commercial and industrial buildings over 30,000 sq. ft. (The Kotler Ice Arena, one of the largest buildings in Victor, has a footprint of just over 25,000 sq. ft.) The ordinance would also require applicants to obtain a conditional use permit for projects between 20,000 and 30,000 sq. ft. If approved, the interim ordinance would be in place for a year and would serve as a stopgap measure to allow more time for research and deliberation, Goodale explained.
Frohlich, who is now running for mayor, said his idea wasn’t prompted by any one project or application; rather, he said he thinks the city should be proactive, not reactive.
“I wanted us to get ahead of the game and figure out our priorities. With a small city staff, it’s important for us to not just focus on the granular stuff but also look at the big picture,” he told the Teton Valley News. “This is an important step in the process of updating the comp plan.”
He added that community members have been very clear that they don’t want Victor to become a “big box strip mall town.”
“We know Victor is booming but we want to keep the downtown in business, to keep the small town feel,” he said.
The council will hold a work session on the interim ordinance on Sept. 11 and a public hearing at a special meeting on Sept. 18 at 9:30 a.m. To submit comment on the ordinance, email firstname.lastname@example.org by Sept. 11.
The job posting for planner is available to view at victorcityidaho.com.