City planners, business liaisons help cities grow

  • Jenny Lynn Zappala<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:45am

LYNNWOOD — Take a drive through Lynnwood and you may notice a pattern.

Retail shops and office buildings are grouped together in business districts, such as Alderwood and the Highway 99 business corridor. Family houses, apartments and schools can be found in neighborhoods.

This is not an accident. The Community Development Department is responsible for the orderly growth and development of the city. One of the department’s most effective tools for keeping order is planning, according to Community Development director Jim Cutts.

City planners draft plans, which the public can review and city leaders approve, about what can or will be built in particular parts of the city. As a result, people who live and work in a city can make reasonable assumptions about how a city will grow and change over time.

“What we want is orderly growth in the city and not growth that would be hodgepodge,” Cutts said. “If you buy a house in a residential neighborhood, you want some assurance that someone is not going to be building a 20-story building next to you. (Because of planning) you have some knowledge of what is going to happen around you.”

The public plays a significant role in how the city grows. Development plans are available for public review at City Hall. Many cities post giant signs at future construction sites to let neighbors know a development is being considered or has been approved for that site.

For significant projects or plan revisions, the planning commission or city council holds public hearings to consider public opinion.

The Community Development Department has ways to make sure property owners and developers follow the rules.

City planners determine whether new development meets the city’s design and safety standards before issuing a building permit. Permits are required before building or remodels can begin.

The most common complaint is permits take too long to process, but the department is getting more efficient, Cutts said. The department issued 2,315 permits in 2004 compared to 1,762 permits in 2000. For permit approval, the average wait time has dropped from 17 days in 2000 to about 11 days in 2004.

“We are doing a lot better,” Cutts said.

After construction, city inspectors make sure the new construction or remodel meets the city’s building, electrical, mechanical and plumbing standards.

“There are building codes that need to be enforced for your health, safety and welfare,” Cutts said. “They (inspectors) ensure that buildings are safe for life, work and play.”

Bringing in business

The Economic Development Department is also looking to the future, but is more focused on businesses, said department director David Kleitsch. A healthy business community produces jobs for residents and tax revenue.

“We have got a lot of departments that are focused on providing services and they will not be able to afford providing those services unless we have a strong economy and a strong business community,” Kleitsch said. “That business activity provides the bulk of the revenue.”

The city’s most effective tool is information, including what the city’s workforce is like, what commericial real estate is available and how to access city services.

“We use that information to recruit businesses or we encourage businesses to stay here,” Kleitsch. “We lay out the case for Lynnwood.”

The majority of the city’s jobs are retail and service industry jobs, which typically pay about $19,000 a year. The city’s goal is to attract more office jobs, which pay about $40,000 to $60,000 a year. The city is attracting more businesses that offer those kind of jobs, including engineering, finance, real estate, biomedical, aerospace, life sciences and electronics.

City officials continue to work with retailers so Lynnwood remains a competitive regional shopping center and small businesses because they provide so many jobs in the city.

“We want to grow community that provides a good quality of life,” he said.

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