Report: Planning department in need of major changes
The city of Rochester's resources to guide planning and development are outdated and could threaten its urban development and projected growth, according to a report delivered to city and Olmsted County officials this week.
A third-party assessment of the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department found more than a dozen key, unmet needs in the department's organization, staffing and planning documents. The report was funded by Olmsted County and delivered to county and city leaders Monday.
Among recommended changes, the report's authors suggest moving toward a split of the currently shared city and county planning department, updates to the city's Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Manual and adding staff capacity to handle unprecedented demands on the department.
"The Planning Department is respected and generally receives good marks for all of the services that it provides," the report states. "There is, however, virtually unanimous consensus that it currently lacks the skills and capacity to do the work that will be required if Rochester is going to realize the Destination Medical Center Vision."
The assessment was completed by Stantec Consulting Services and was led by John Shardlow, a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners. The report was to be shared Tuesday during a joint meeting of the Rochester City Council and Olmsted County Board of Commissioners, but the meeting was canceled.
A copy of the report was delivered Wednesday to the Post-Bulletin by city administration; it became a public document when it was shared via email between city administrators and council members. The report showed findings of substantial unmet needs in the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department and recommendations to address the long list of challenges.
The contents of the report are based on 23 interviews with city and county leaders, Mayo Clinic staff members, Destination Medical Center representatives, neighborhood representatives, civic organizations and members of the development community. The interviews were supplemented with an online survey and input from internal staff.
Findings and recommendations from the report are described below:
• The city and county operate under an outdated comprehensive plan and the process to update that plan, which is underway, has taken longer than expected.
• The Land Development Code was written in the 1970s and is seen as complicated, outdated and not suited to regulating dense, urban developments.
• The planning department is operating at its capacity with daily activities and lacks the capacity to engage in long-range planning, neighborhood engagement prior to major developments or other needed communications work.
• Complete and adopt the updated comprehensive plan.
• Adopt new land use and zoning regulations and amend policies to implement the updated comprehensive plan.
• Add staff capacity with the needed skills, talent and experience.
• Migrate away from the joint city-county planning model.