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Good Regional Planners Are Hard to FindPrint

Thriving Communities | March 23, 2007 | By Jim Lively

With more than 1,700 local units of government, Michigan is not a state that readily embraces regional planning. Local control is fervently defended. No big government bureaucrat will tell us how to plan our communities.

It’s tough to be a regional planning director in Michigan. I know that only too well after working more than 9 years at the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments in that position. I’m sure my departure in 1999 was applauded by many local officials who thought I was pushing too many ‘wild’ ideas about coordinated planning and zoning.

So I appreciate a regional planner who can get the job done while not raising the ire of the local officials who enjoy the control of being the boss of their backyard – and the limited pay and benefits that come with it.

Megan Olds was regional planning director at the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments for the past seven years and she did a masterful job advancing better planning in the region without antagonizing county officials. Unfortunately, just last week she left to take a job with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy as director of communications.

It is a loss for the region – although a coup for the Conservancy. Under Megan’s guidance, the Council of Governments had many notable accomplishments: they partnered with the Chamber to reinvigorate New Designs for Growth, helped guide the upcoming Grand Traverse Area Land Use and Transportation Study (LUTS), took over the regional Benchmarks Northwest community quality of life assessment, produced a regular regional economic development strategy and convened countless planning and zoning workshops with an emphasis on voluntary intergovernmental coordination.

It is especially difficult to lose Megan’s proficiency at intergovernmental coordination just as the region is moving into a world-class regional visioning and planning process. The Northwest Michigan Council of Governments must play an important – albeit quiet - leadership role in advancing regional coordination on land use planning. Megan was adept at finding the right balance between protecting her agency – and job- by staying below the radar and yet tackling some of the key issues that this rapidly growing region needs to work on.

Good luck, Megan in your new career at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Certainly you will excel at that fine organization. Here’s hoping that the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments continues to play a strong role in convening local governments around a regional vision.