Development is booming, but Greenville’s top planning and development position remains vacant

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There’s an empty seat in Greenville’s Planning and Development department, one of the most important positions in the entire city.

And it’s a position that has been vacant since former city planner Michael Kerski left in July to become the planning director in Shakopee, Minn., a city southwest of Minneapolis.

“That position is very pivotal,” said Steve Navarro, president and CEO of The Furman Co. “They have to understand the city plan, the vision of city leaders and elected officials and interpret that principle of healthy growth to the private sector.”

Bryan Wood, the city’s zoning administrator, has served as interim planning and development manager while Greenville is conducting a national search, said Deputy City Manager Nancy Whitworth.

Whitworth said the city expects to bring an undetermined number of candidates in for interviews in mid-October. She said it is more important for the city to find the right person to fill the position than it was to hire somebody quickly.

Navarro said the way Greenville has grown is different than how Columbia and Charleston have grown. He said with the University of South Carolina, a medical school, a military base and state government, Columbia is going to grow no matter what and that growth is dictated by those big behemoths. Charleston’s growth depends on tourists. Greenville’s growth, on the other hand, comes from business and economic development.

“Economic development depends on the good decisions being made. It is so critical to facilitate positive growth rather than react to growth,” he said. “We have to be proactive to make sure growth is what we want. The planning director is a pivot point with the city on one side and developers on the other.”

City Manager John Castile said the city has met with stakeholders such as neighborhood leaders, developers and city employees in order to develop a list of qualities the new manager should possess. Among them are the ability to work with various groups, coordinate with other planning agencies, the ability to work with the development community in a positive way to influence appropriate development, the ability to look creatively at opportunities and recommend solutions to planning, design and development issues.

A job listing says that candidates will have a master’s degree in planning or a related field and more than six years of experience in planning.

“Our most important mission is to balance our growth with quality of life. With so much happening, it is a real challenge every day,” said Mayor Knox White. “The person in this position stands at the front lines. We must find a person who is trustworthy and respectful to everyone, knows how to mediate conflict and sets a high standard for quality.”

Navarro said the new manager will need to understand Greenville and the role public-private partnerships have played in its growth.

“While we want to see healthy economic growth, we also need to remember what made Greenville great while looking at where we’re headed,” he said.

Robert Hughes, chief operating officer of Hughes Development, said Kerski made a lasting impact on Greenville.

“Given the pace at which Greenville is growing, the new planning and development director will be faced with an equal amount of opportunities and challenges. I am confident the city will find someone with a pragmatic approach to design and development, who also appreciates where Greenville is today and what is coming next. This is an exciting time,” he said.

View the position here.

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