National Community Planning Month 2021
October is National Community Planning Month. This month recognizes City staff and community members who volunteer their time on boards and commissions to make Johnston a community so residents can Thrive. Every Day!
Throughout the year, the Johnston planning staff works to improve the well-being of all residents. Being inclusive leads to a safer, resilient, and more equitable community. During this month, we will be featuring one of the planning staff members each week. This will provide the residents an opportunity to get to know them and understand their role within the city. Below are the staff members from L to R: Kelsey Luczycki, Adam Plagge, David Wilwerding, Clayton Ender and Aaron Wolfe.
Get to know Planner Aaron Wolfe.
Aaron has been in the planning profession for nearly 20-years, but began serving the City in 2008. During his 14-years, he has seen many changes in terms of planning and priorities for the City.
His day-to-day planning tasks include site plan and subdivision reviews and process requests for the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Map amendments. He ensures each of these projects complies with the city code and the Johnston Thrive 2040 Comprehensive Plan. He also works with the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council on the approval process.
Aaron is the primary staff member in charge of processing items presented to the Board of Adjustment, which includes variance requests, special exceptions, special use permits and appeals. As you can imagine, during certain years, this can keep him quite busy.
While Aaron did not grow up in Johnston, he is from the metro area. He vividly remembers when the population was under 6,000. He swam in the Camp Dodge pool as a kid and he remembers the overpass at NW 70th Avenue and Merle Hay Road. Like many, he went shopping at the indoor Village Square Mall. When he grew up, there was no interstate interchange at NW 86th Street.
When he began as a planner 14-years ago, the population was 15,000. Today, it is 24,064. Aaron has enjoyed watching Johnston grow and he said, “It’s been exciting to play a small role in the growth story by ushering various site plans, rezoning’s and subdivisions through the approval process.” Aaron stated, “Johnston is a highly-regarded community and a sought-after place to live and raise a family and I’m looking forward to continuing to be a part of that successful growth story as our city expands beyond Saylorville Drive and Highway 141.”
Planning certainly faces challenges and the pandemic has been one of them. Aaron said, “Advances in renewable energy technologies are challenging to forecast, but we need to plan for electric vehicles and solar and wind technologies as a city.
At the beginning of Aaron’s planning career, the location of communication towers was a very controversial subject. Today, nearly everyone carries a mobile phone in their pocket, so we are connected all the time. Widespread use of wireless and cellular devices has led to greater acceptance of these towers to the point we seldom notice their presence. At the same time, technology is also becoming less intrusive.
The biggest change Aaron has seen during his service is with stormwater. Today, state requirements and best practices for stormwater management have changed and the City code was modified to require more strict stormwater management practices. These code changes have made development more challenging, but the ultimate result is less erosion, a healthier watershed, and a better environment.
Get to know Planner Clayton Ender.
Clayton has worked for the City since the summer of 2015 as a part-time planning intern. He began full-time in the summer of 2016. In his six years of service, he has seen significant growth and has several accomplishments.
During his tenure, he was part of a team that completed a 1,461-acre annexation of land into the City of Johnston. This annexation will allow the City to continue to grow into the future with many opportunities for new business and housing options for current and new residents.
Clayton enjoys working with the residents and businesses to help them see the vision for the future. Clayton works on planning new developments and stormwater best management practices. He enjoys seeing the vision for the community and, over time, watching the neighborhoods come together and expand this great community.
Planning has changed in the six years Clayton has been with the City. There has been an increase in demand for place-based experiences. As more people shop online, people often seek out in-person social interaction experiences. The Johnston Town Center will serve as this experience and offer residents and visitors that gathering experience here in our community. The Johnston Town Center is now our 'downtown square' for our community.
Get to know Community Development Assistant Kelsey Luczycki.
Kelsey is a familiar face you will see as you enter Johnston City Hall. She has worked in Johnston for a year and a half. Calculating the months, she started during the pandemic – when everyone from City Hall had gone to ‛work from home’ because of the uncertainty. Not knowing whom all the staff was or seeing residents in person made it challenging, but as the saying goes, ‘Together we will persevere.’
“While most people assumed it would have been difficult to start a new job during the pandemic it was actually a great opportunity for me,” Kelsey said. “I start months before moving into our beautiful new City Hall Building, and was able to use the ‛slower’ months of the pandemic to reorganize a lot of the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities within my position.”
Kelsey has enjoyed updating the online options for applications, reports and payment submittals. A majority of Kelsey’s correspondence with the public is done online, it was important the process was easier and more transparent for those submitting forms. If you have a question if your remodeling or deck addition requires a permit, Kelsey is at City Hall to answer your questions.
She genuinely appreciates working with each person in the Community Development Department and serving the Johnston community. “I believe what truly makes a job enjoyable is the quality of people you are surrounded by each day and I am extremely grateful for the group I get to work with,” said Kelsey!
To reach the Community Development or Building Departments, please call (515) 727-7778.
Get to know Adam Plagge, Economic Development Manager.
Adam has served the City of Johnston for nearly five years. Before joining Johnston, he served in other economic development capacities in Eastern Iowa.
"One of my biggest accomplishments has been contributing to the Town Center coming to fruition," said Plagge. "A lot of time and effort went into the design, planning and construction. Watching residents and visitors enjoy the space during the events we have already had has been gratifying. It will certainly be an area families and friends can enjoy for many years to come."
Adam has also been instrumental in extending Johnston's growth area to Highway 141 and Saylorville, also referred to as the NW Annexation. This area will offer single and multi-family housing.
While Adam is a part of the planning staff, his position works closely with many other departments in the City. He is most proud of helping bring Council's vision for Johnston's into a reality. He has invested a lot of time and meeting with key leaders in our community to ensure the vision stays on course.
The pandemic has certainly created new challenges for economic development. It has shifted planning efforts towards repurposing and revitalizing office and retail spaces impacted by changes in the real estate industry. The rapid rise of 'work from home' has necessitated prioritization efforts to ensure high-speed internet connectivity in the community. Earlier this year, we worked, the City worked with HR Green to conduct a broadband study. This provided an overview of the speeds and areas we may need to enhance as a city.
As the community grows, the commercial property valuation is essential to lowering property taxes. This fall, two commercial buildings will begin construction on the corner of NW 62nd Avenue and Merle Hay Road. They will bring in additional restaurants and retail. During the recent community survey, residents expressed the need for these. "We do take residents' input seriously and we can't wait to announce the tenants," said Plagge. The Ignit facility, which will be located west of Pagliai's Pizza, will be a community gathering space, which has been needed for many years. "We are certainly excited for the visitor opportunities this will bring to Johnston," Plagge stated.
The Johnston Town Center and Ignit Public-Private Partnerships will create significant commercial property valuation, eventually leading to lower property taxes and help meet the community-identified need for community gathering spaces and additional restaurants and retail opportunities.
All about David Wilwerding, Community Development Director
October is National Community Planning Month. The planning staff within the City is small but mighty. We are excited to share a “Get to Know” planning staff member each week.
David Wilwerding is the Community Development Director who has served the City over the past 19 years. During his time, he has seen a lot of growth and development. One of his biggest accomplishments is developing and implementing the City’s first Watershed Assessment and Stormwater Management Plan, including the creation of the Stormwater Utility. This plan ensures the City protects properties from flooding and improves the water quality throughout the community while having a dedicated funding source to address our stormwater infrastructure needs.
During his 19 years, David has been instrumental in the planning stages of the Johnston Town Center. “Construction of the Johnston Town Center and City Hall will certainly have a positive impact on our community for decades to come,” David said. “We had talked about this area for many years, so seeing the vision come together is certainly exciting.”
As the City has grown, so had David’s staff. He is proud of his team of dedicated professionals that ensure Johnston continues to Thrive Every Day. His staff consists of one administrative assistant, two planners, one economic development manager, one building official, two building inspectors and one GIS coordinator.
While his team has grown, the planning process has stayed relatively the same; however, advances in technology have made it so much easier to engage with and get feedback from the community through online engagement and social media. The pandemic certainly changed the need for in-person meetings. “The Thrive 2040 plan was completed with online meetings and public input,” said David.
The Community Development team looks to the zoning ordinance to ensure submitted plans follow what Johnston expects. The current zoning code dates back to the early 1970s with only a few modifications. During this time, land use development, construction techniques and design standards have changed. All builders and developers that bring plans forward in Johnston are held to the same regulations. This ensures development remains consistent over the years.
The department is currently undergoing an ongoing effort to update and modernize the City’s Zoning Codes while ensuring a high quality of life our residents enjoy.
For more information on the Zoning code, visit www.cityofjohnston.com/1104/Zoning-Subdivision-Code-Update.