Town Planning Director to retire

This just in from Chapel Hill:

Town Planning Director Roger Waldon announced today that he will retire effective June 1. Waldon will begin a new career as a private planning consultant.

“No one can match Roger's combination of intellect, creativity, and enormous work production,” said Town Manager Cal Horton. “He is both a model civil servant and a model community volunteer.”


Town Manager Horton will make a decision about interim leadership for the Planning Department within a few weeks.

Town News, 2/28/05

This is certainly a key hire for the town. The planning director, more than any other staff position, works directly with the manager and council to shape the development of the town. Planning is arguably the central aspect of town government from ecological and social as well as physical perspectives. I'm sure that the town manager will want to collaborate closely with the mayor and council to ensure that the person hired for this position is a good fit with Chapel Hill's aspirations to be a leader in urban planning and development.

And best of luck to Roger, of course.



Apparently Waldon will not be going far.

As of June 1, he will be working for Clarion, a national planning consulting practice, with offices in Chapel Hill and Colorado, and affiliate offices in Chicago and Cincinnati. The focus of the firm's practice is on comprehensive planning, growth management strategies, and plan implementation. Waldon will be based in the Chapel Hill office of the firm.

Wow! This is a BIG DEAL.

I need to think about this for a while...

Congratulations to Roger Waldon on a major decision and a lot of years of hard work on behalf of the Town of Chapel Hill (and also the School System)!

All that said, the interim Dept Head pick is obvious. Hope Cal makes the right decision both interim and long term.

For most people, it may not be immediately obvious what the impact of some administrator's departure would be. Of course I am biased since I have been obsessed with local planning since about 1992. That was when I, a young environmental activist, was appointed to the Town's Transportation Board. I was determined to get people out of their cars and onto buses, bikes, and their feet by any means necessary. But what I learned was that most of these decisions were impacted much more by the design of the community than by the individual's desire to drive.

In short: no way are you going to take the bus if you can't walk around at your destination. If you work in the park, you HAVE to drive just to get to lunch or the bank. However, if you work on campus, you can get more done by NOT driving. It is good planning that leads us to design our community around people instead of cars.

So back to the point at hand: I don't think Chapel Hill has done everything perfectly, but we have done a lot right. How can I tell? Well for one thing, people keep wanting to live here. Another way I can tell is how rarely I use my car. So who gets the credit for this? I would point mostly to our elected officials who have been quite visionary when it comes to long-range planning.

But the Town staff are the professionals who implement these ideas and directly impact how and whether our community grows. I have sometimes seen Roger as an obstacle to positive change, but one the whole he gets it, and has been able to implement the smart guidelines that keep our community functioning so well. So, who's in line? There are two Assistant Planning Directors, both quite capable in their specialties. Chris Berndt covers long-range planning, and J.B. Culpepper covers current development.

Mark Chilton (who knows about this stuff) says in his comment above that the interim Director choice is obvious. I don't see it quite as clearly, but I think that J.B. has seniority, so she is probably what Mark has in mind.

It's really important for the Planning Director to grasp both short-term and long-range issues, so I have been thinking about J.B. and Chris and how well either one could cross-over into the other's specialty. I feel really stumped on this since I have only worked each of them in her own context.

So all this rambling is to say: dang this change is important, and I'm not sure what I want to see happen next. Any suggestions?

Congratulations to J B Culpeper. No one umderstands the Land Use Management Ordinance better than JB. Good luck, JB!


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