The city should have a new leader to oversee planning and development activities by the end of April.
City Manager David Corliss told commissioners at their meeting Tuesday evening that activity to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Planning Director Linda Finger in December 2005 is accelerating.
"That is going to be one of my top priorities," Corliss said. "I'm ready to start making some of the organizational changes we need to make to achieve our goals."
The new position will oversee the Planning Department and the city's Neighborhood Resources Department. City commissioners in November gave preliminary approval to merge those two departments to create a more streamlined planning and development process.
At their Tuesday meeting, commissioners gave final approval to the merger, though it won't happen until a new director is hired.
Commissioners also gave approval to immediately begin the hiring process for three new positions in the department. Corliss was given permission to spend $112,000 that had been set aside in the budget to hire a senior transportation planner, a senior specialty planner who will do long-range planning and historic resources work, and a building permit plans examiner.
Commissioners split 3-2 on the need for a plans examiner. Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner David Schauner both wanted to wait on adding the position because the number of building permit applications has declined significantly from past years.
Commissioners also told Corliss to continue his efforts to find new office space to house the merged Planning and Neighborhood Resources Department, which will be called the Planning and Development Services Department.
Corliss confirmed he is looking at space in the former Riverfront Mall near Sixth and New Hampshire streets to house a "one-stop shop" development office. He said he hoped the City Commission could make a decision on a location in 2007, but said the office likely wouldn't open until 2008.
The ownership group of the former mall building is led by members of the Simons family, who own the Journal-World and its parent company, The World Company.
City Commission briefs
Cycling race route receives city approvalCity commissioners at their Tuesday meeting unanimously approved the use of certain downtown streets for the 2007 USA Cycling's Collegiate Road Championship. The bicycle race will be Sunday, May 13. The route will include Massachusetts Street from Seventh to 10th streets, New Hampshire from Eighth to 10th streets, and Vermont Street to Seventh to Eighth streets. It would restrict traffic on those sections of street. The request received no opposition from Downtown Lawrence Inc., which reviewed the route. Last year the event attracted 400 collegiate cyclists from 95 universities across the country. Discussion on library expansion pushed backA discussion about whether to proceed on a $30 million library project now won't happen until the City Commission's Feb. 13 meeting. Commissioners agreed to move the discussion off its Feb. 6 agenda after City Manager David Corliss said that date was the only time a group of city-hired consultants was available to deliver a key planning report to commissioners.That presentation is expected to take up a majority of the meeting time.