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Arlington County Names New Planning Director

by ARLnow.com September 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm 4,456 65 Comments

Arlington County announced today that Peter Katz, an author and nationally recognized proponent of the New Urbanism movement, will be taking over as the county’s new planning director.

Katz hails from southwest Florida, where he served as director of Smart Growth/Urban Planning for Sarasota County. He’s taking over the position after former planning director Bob Brosnan succeeded the retiring Susan Bell as director of the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

“Peter brings to this critical position a deep knowledge of the planning principles that Arlington is all about,” Brosnan said in a press release. “He understands and appreciates the robust community engagement that is a hallmark of planning in Arlington. We expect Peter to provide strong leadership and vision as we continue the work of building a sustainable community.”

As planning director, Katz will oversee the department that guides and regulates Arlington’s short and long-range development. That includes zoning and code enforcement, plus reviewing and issuing permits for residential and commercial development.

His first day on the job will be Tuesday, Oct. 11.

  • Richard Cranium

    Day 1 will be spent meeting all staff and reading past 6 months of ArlNow to get caught up on dog Parks, Slip Lanes and Hypothetical Wal Marts.

  • CW

    “Katz hails from southwest Florida, where he served as director of Smart Growth/Urban Planning for Sarasota County.”

    Coming soon to Arlington County – a comprehensive, interconnected network of golf cart paths!!!

    Seriously, how does a new urbanism proponent end up in Sarasoata? That must be like purgatory, at least, if not pure hell.

    • “Seriously, how does a new urbanism proponent end up in Sarasoata?”

      Maybe Arlington’s salaries are just not up to getting someone better?

      • Lou

        Maybe he felt he needed to be just far enough away from Seaside to make a name for himself?

      • drax

        Um, you don’t get it.

    • John Fontain

      Does this mean we’ll be putting fences up everywhere so all neighborhoods will become gated communities?

      • Chris

        It’s actually a sound layered Zombie defense. More fences slow down the undead horde that will no doubt pour out of Alexandria and allow Arlington PD to really lay in the withering fire with the help of their new night vision goggles.

        That’s right, I brought it back to that.

        • Richard Cranium

          Perhaps we could use the fences to funnel them all over to Donaldson Run, where they would all sink like Jeep Libertys.

    • Arlingtonian

      No Masters degree (a miminum requirement for the position according to the County’s job description) and he is not a member of AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners). How did he even get an interview?

      • 4Arl

        Do you have evidence of the masters requirement? If he did not meet the minimum requirements, his application should not have made it past HR. This is a civil service position, not a political appointment. If only Arlington had an inspector general…

  • ha

    He should be great in 2015 once he learns Arlington. We saw how well Michael Brown worked out.

  • bemused bystander

    That’s why he’s escaping to Arlington.

  • MC

    I’ve spent time in Sarasota, and while it is certainly different than Arlington, it does have far more planning than you would imagine, even if you have visited. There are strict development rules to conserve wetlands. Sarasota has a bus system that is much more comprehensive than ART. Many people don’t drive due to their age, so providing public transit is important there. Also, many bike lanes exist.

    • R

      I know Sarasota extremely well and agree completely. Though I always questioned who approved the final name of the Sarasota bus system…SCAT (Sarasota County Area Transit)…I mean scat, come on man. Everytime I see a bus down there I start laughing. Though my sense of humor is about 40 years younger than I am.

    • dk

      Agree! Before my parents moved to Sarasota 8 years ago, I had never been to Florida and had pretty low expectations, LOL. But I was pleasantly surprised by what a nice little city Sarasota is–beautiful really and many amenities. They’ve done a lot of work to promote a vibrant and walk-able downtown area, and somehow they’ve managed to do it without bringing it a lot of big chains.

      I love Arlington, but TBH I wonder why he’d want to come here, LOL.

    • charlie

      with just under three years in Sarasota, and Southern Florida in an economic tundra, I don’t think Mr. Katz can claim to be responsible for much of the good stuff there.

  • John

    Let’s hope he advocates for better architecture standards. New Urbanists tend to favor very conservative typologies (i.e. rows of houses with front porches, traditional design styles, etc) that leave little room for architectural expression.

    • Alex

      That’s right. So much of these over-planned streetscapes look like Disneyworld. What 21st century? Guess we’ll sleep through it.

  • Josh S

    Wow! Some celebrity hiring! Well, OK just a celebrity in the Smart Growth community, but still. Good job Arlington! Exciting news.

    • Groupie

      Katz is a very engaging speaker as well. I don’t know what his management skills are like but as far as philosophy, I think this is a great hire.

  • R

    As a part-time resident, property owner and business owner in Sarasota, the New Urbanism concept of Katz was a tough sell, particularly right now. First off, most of the big money, long time residents down there were reluctant to have any development, let alone vertical development. Secondly, the economic situation is so bad there that there isn’t any stomach for talking about new development of any kind right now with so much empty space. He did speak at a merchant’s association meeting I attended down there and his analysis into property tax income per acre was interesting. Though I don’t think he lasted very long down there, doesn’t seem like that long ago he was hired, but with the dynamics of the situation in Sarasota, I’m sure he couldn’t get out quick enough. His ideas should fit perfectly with what is seemingly the Arlington County Board’s mindset of increasing density. Seems like a good hire to push what the Board already wants.

    • Akashi

      The County is convinced that increased density will improve its fiscal condition. The problem is that it spends 1.10 for each buck it collects — debt and taxes have gone up with density. You can’t balance a budget selling dollars for ninety-one cents by increasing the volume of sales!

      • Lou

        Good analysis.

  • Akashi

    Who knew Arlington had professional planners? Were they here for Rosslyn, Ballston, Crystal City, and Pentagon City? If so, you’ve got to wonder what, beside the Loop Bridge, would have been different had each developer just been given permission to build what they wanted.

    • John

      Arlington was one of the first suburban jurisdictions in the United States to hire professional planners way back in the 60s. And back in the 60s, “skyways” and underground malls (e.g. Crystal City) were at the forefront of urban design thinking.

    • charlie

      please clarify.
      did the planners (which we have) or the developers do it right or wrong? which did which?

      • John

        Much of the urban planning thinking of that era was misguided. Just think of the Market Street Mall in Philadelphia, the underused skyway walkways in Rosslyn, or the overused ones in Minneapolis that killed the street life below.

        Architects and designers for many years called Rosslyn, “Houston on the Potomac.”

        What the planners did get right was a rerouting of Metro underground roughly following an old trolley right of way along Fairfax Drive (now Clarendon Boulevard (east of Clarendon). They also chose wisely to direct the county’s high rise growth along the metro lines.

        • OX4

          We’ll make sure Mr. Katz runs all his ideas by you in the future.

        • charlie

          i meant for ashaki to clarify, but ok.

          planners never did anything wit bad intentions. and in 40 years i’m sure people will wonder why we are giving away free trees and why is this streetcar construction destorying columbia pike.

          we aren’t re-inventing sliced bread. we just think we are doing it better. as did the planners of the 60’s.

    • drax


  • charlie

    if you are the most progressive (self-labeled) planning county in the country, how do you hire someone new and better than what you are already doing?

  • Think this hire is a bad idea. Why reach out to Sarasota? How much did this hire cost us? Very uncomfortable with this hire.Think we have local talent who have a better understanding. Don’t support the hire of Mr Katz.

    • Josh S

      Unable to use a pronoun. Don’t know what they are.

      • drax

        Notice this annoying habit often.

  • JimPB

    His annual salary will be $150,000.

    • CW

      I know people will probably complain about that, but given the amount of monetary and human capital that he will be commanding, it’s more than fair. He’ll have a lot of responsibility.

    • anna m

      That’s all? I expected it to be higher. It seems like a good deal for an experienced planner.

      I’m impressed.

      • Thes

        I agree, that salary seems low for his level of substantive experience. I hope he’s on a track to get some raises once he’s learned more about our community and its specific values and community process.

        • county pay

          County pays low. Supposed to be an honor/dedication thing working for ArlCo. Lotta good people gone or going cuz of that institutional hubris.

          • drax

            county pay = Ballston Resident = uses no pronouns

          • CW

            What is pronoun? Article too.

          • county pay

            Sorry drax, I can use pronouns, and he or she (Ballston Resident) is not me. Try again.

        • bemused bystander

          Thes — Do you really think he was hired to fit into our “specific values and community process” rather than to innovate and instill more textbook smart growth mantras? If the county masters wanted someone who would fit in without any ripples, there were candidates closer at hand.

    • charlie

      about right.
      i don’t think this is a good hire for a dynamic fast pasted planning community.
      I know Katz and he would be better in a tweed suit engaging under graduates in urban theory.

      • county pay

        who do you think is wearing pasties?

    • Westover Leftover

      Next time remind me not to major in Arts History

  • Commander McBragg

    Yeah, that’s what we need: a commander of human capital.

    • CW

      You’re clearly a strict connotative interpretationist, whereas I’m more of a denotationist.

  • Commander McBragg

    Na, I’m a denotationist as well. That’s why the sign on my door reads, “Human Resources / Authorized Personnel Only.”

    I embrace anthropomorphism for everything but people.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    So lets look at his real credentials – From his LinkedIn profile –
    Feb2009 – Now( A whole 2.75Yrs) Director planning – Sarasota
    2.5 Years Senior Planner – OceanSide, CA

    He also lists 1980 to Present as a consultant; Not sure how that works if you are Local Gov’t employee.

    1976 Cooper Union Grad – B.S. Graphic Design/Architecture

    • charlie


    • CW

      With that history of employers, maybe his first action will be to start developing a public beach for the County…

    • Lou

      I had a couple of professors with Cooper Union architecture backgrounds in undergrad. Let’s just say they epitomized the “those who can’t do, teach” mantra.

  • KalashniKEV

    He’ll quit in 6 months and get a 6 figure severance from his homies.

  • Peter Katz was hired at $150K per year.

    This should have been a local Arlington County hire.

    I doubt his expertise.

    Why was he really hired?

    • Thes

      Dude. Katz is an internationally-recognized expert in planning. The only question is whether he will be able to work within the Arlington system in which many (but not all) of the other employees he will have to work with are considerably less skilled.

      • Thes,

        I questioned Peter Katz’s skills. Think a local hire would be much better. Don’t think many (but not all) of the other employees he will have to work with are considerably less skilled.

        This is a sham.

        Get rid of Mr. Katz and hire a local person. He has no specific skills that warrant this outrageous hiring.

      • charlie

        thes, he is an international recognized expert of a specific theory — which may or may not be sustainable.
        but he has NEVER had a staff. and now he has over 200 staff members.
        a good planner does not make a good manager automatically.

  • bemused bystander

    Wow. So much for any disconnect between academic and consulting expertise and international recognition and real-world management skills. So much for the talents and experience of many (but not all) county staff, including presumably his bosses and fellow division chiefs. And so much for your earlier comment about the importance of learning Arlington values and community-oriented processes. Apparently after mulling this over through lunch, you’ve concluded that the only real question is whether the grubby realities of Arlington governing will get in this messiah’s way.

    • I’m offended, as an Arlington County resident, for paying $150K for Mr. Katz’s salary.

      We could have done much better by hiring locally.

      Why was he hired?

      This is really bad.

    • bemused bystander

      This was meant as a response to Thes.

  • Arlingtonian

    He doesn’t have much management experience – how many people will he be supervising here? I think the County went with him since he had been worrking on the Columbia Pike project – he had an “inside” advantage.

  • GenLee

    Why was the minimum requirement for a masters degree waived for Mr. Katz, is that allowed under civil service law?

  • Arlingtonian

    Has anyone learned how Katz was hired without the required masters degree in Planning?


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