St. Cloud to hire city planners for growth

By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

After voting down a measure that would have halted some development projects, St. Cloud is looking to hire city planners to keep up with the town’s booming growth.

The City Council voted 3-2 on Feb. 9 against the six-month moratorium that would have largely mirrored an Osceola County policy.

After a lengthy discussion, council members decided to hire more plan reviewers and inspectors to deal with the department’s increased work flow.

Planning and Zoning Director Andre Anderson said his department has been swamped by requests, some of which have been “held up in the pipeline” for years.

“Many of these projects were put on pause when the economy was bad,” Anderson explained. “Now that the economy is better, the builders are moving forward with them. That, combined with many new permitting requests, it has increased our work load substantially.”

Anderson said the four current city planners are working long hours to keep up. In addition to typical work days, staff is responsible for attending two to three nightly meetings a week, and addressing questions from City Council members.

The director said he worries about employee burn out.

“It places a strain on all of us,” he said. “The planners have to conduct research, create a presentation and be on their game to correctly address questions from the Council. It takes a toll.”

The building and permit activity for January increased by 152 percent over the same period

last year.

The moratorium proposed Feb. 8 to alleviate work for the department. But ultimately, the number of exceptions translated to a virtually identical work load, Anderson said.

“If it had been a complete ban on any new building, then yes, it may have helped us out,” he said. “But the way it was written, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference at all.”

City Attorney Bill Sturgeon will ask the council to approve a $293,800 budget amendment at tonight’s City Council meeting so he can advertise the positions immediately.

The funding is expected to cover the cost of three planners and a fire inspector.

Demand for city planners increased as the economy improved, Anderson said, making these kinds of positions more expensive and time-consuming to fill.

Higher wages from private sector companies have only driven wages higher, Anderson said.

Anderson said he has already drafted job descriptions for the new positions and sent them to Human Resources. He hopes to have the first new staff member in place within the next 30 to 60 days.

The beginning planner would perform zoning verifications and building permit applications. The two Level II planners would receive and process land development applications and zoning.

The new fire inspector would assist with increased demand from projects like Hanover Lakes, Old Hickory and Tohoqua.