Playing Music For Communities



by Bill Detweiler, Castle Rock, Colorado

One of the fascinating things about community development is the interaction between residents and municipal government and commercial development teams and municipal government, hereafter referred to as “staff.” Though some may believe those two groups are at odds, residents and commercial developers clearly have similar interests. Both are making a significant investment in the community, and both are seeking a return on that investment. Perhaps residents are more focused on a return through lifestyle enhancement and social interaction than a development team, but both are providing enrichment to the community while seeking long-term financial gain. I mention this observation because both groups share another similar interest; interaction with staff.

I believe residents and development teams share a curiosity regarding staff. They view staff as something a bit unknown, yet a valuable resource, sounding board, and sometimes an obstacle to their needs. I witness staff spending a significant amount of time providing information to residents and commercial development teams. Information provides a baseline for discussion and allows appropriate fact and data-based discussions to occur among groups. Staff sometimes finds themselves defending public record information and previous land use decisions made by staff or elected officials. No matter the topic, I have experienced many occasions where residents and development teams are not clear about the who, what, where, when and why of staff activity.

My experiences in municipal government include serving residents and development teams in Arizona, Virginia, and Colorado, and only within high growth communities. Those experiences provided me with a broad-based understanding of the interaction between staff and residents and staff and development teams. I offer that one of the challenges staff faces is ensuring both parties understand the number and variety of steps needed to plan and build a community. Often times the groups involved view staff “in front of them” as the only piece involved with community development when in reality there are many players involved.

A very young Wolfgang Mozart was being interviewed by a Vienna newspaper reporter when the question arose how Mozart created his music. Because music is an assembly of individual notes played by a variety of instruments, did Mozart start writing for the violins, then woodwinds, then brass, then percussion, etc. to complete his symphonies? Mozart’s reply; “nein, insgesamt, zur gleichen zeit” (no, altogether, at the same time). It takes an extraordinary talent to visualize or hear the whole of something, then break it into individual pieces and put it back together. That was the musical genius of Mozart.

Through my work, I have witnessed extraordinary individual talent blend together for the benefit of a community. As an example, applicants may receive little information about the efforts needed to initiate and complete the process to construct a building. Viewed from afar, it appears to be a single step of simply doing the work. A closer look results in observing the individual steps needed to complete the process. As with an orchestra, where each musician plays individual notes, and those notes blend into the musical experience, constructing a building is based upon a review and inspection process that ensures the public health, safety, and welfare is met. Initial steps include discussions with front counter staff on submittal requirements, followed by discussions with the plan review staff who identify if any adjustments are needed to the plans to meet building codes. Then, a return to the front counter to receive a building permit, followed by a series of on-site building inspections. Final inspections by site inspectors, building inspectors, and fire inspectors occur to ensure all code requirements have been met. Then, a return to the front counter to pick up the occupancy permits and move into the building. Each individual step to construct a building, similar to notes in a symphony, is coordinated and intertwined.

As emphasized herein, each of the coordinated steps needed to ensure submittal, review, and construction of a safe building are similar to the individual notes played by an orchestra to make beautiful music. Everyone involved with community development should be extremely proud of the efforts of individuals, working as a team, to plan, create, and maintain beautiful communities.

And on another note….

Steven Wright panned - “Tell a man that there are 400 billion stars and he'll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint and he has to touch it.”

Curiosity is a good thing. The collective curiosity of a team results in the constant analysis of policies, programs, and practices to advance key goals. I am approached by staff, on a daily basis, contemplating ideas intended to make the workforce more efficient. These intellectual explorations stimulate thought and enhance creative resolve within the team. In my opinion, yet another example of how individual action is blended into a team setting to make beautiful music for the communities we serve.

Bill Detweiler, A.S.L.A., is the Director of Development Services for Castle Rock, Colorado. He serves on the Western Planner Editorial Board.

Published in November 2018