Downtown

We sat down with Interstate Engineering Planning Director, Brent Moore, to discuss the role of Urban Planning for Interstate Engineering and our clients.

What is Urban/Regional Planning?

When my five-year-old asks me what I do, I say, “I help communities make good choices.”

Urban Planners assist government officials, developers, and citizens in determining how and where communities grow.  The primary tools we use are the Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Regulations.

How is this planning different from the planning we have been doing?

Planning is becoming increasingly specialized, and having professionals on staff to develop long range planning documents like Comprehensive Plans or Growth Policies is a natural evolution of services within the firm.  Integrating land use planning with transportation planning, active transportation, and downtown planning are other opportunities that will be pursued as we grow the service.

Lonni often refers to me as the “process person.”  Planners specialize in administering zoning and subdivision; it is not something we do because we have to, we like it.  It is a rare occasion that I meet an engineer or surveyor who likes filling out planning forms or even talking to a local planner.  Having planners on staff to speak the same language as the local planners working in communities we serve is another valuable resource for the firm.

Why is planning an important service for Interstate Engineering?

Planning is a valuable service for Interstate Engineering for a number of reasons, but in my opinion here are the top two:

1. Our core business is in helping communities to make good decisions, particularly in the design, construction, and maintenance of public infrastructure.  Before that infrastructure is in place, a community should comprehensively consider the big picture.  The Comprehensive Planning process integrates public infrastructure decisions with a community’s vision for its future.  If we are there in the beginning, we have a better chance of helping to implement a plan.

2. Planning is a relatively new profession in our region, but it has seen substantial growth in the 12 years that I have practiced in this area.  When I started as the Planning Director for the City of Red Lodge, there were relatively few planners in the private sector.  I was one of the first to join a firm in Montana, and now, most of our engineering competitors have planners on staff.  To remain competitive, offering this service helps Interstate Engineering to keep pace with our competitors.

 What does a planner do?

Today was a typical day in the life of a planner.  I started by sending correspondence to the City of Wolf Point and a developer looking to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to build an apartment building there.  I had a meeting with staff in our Mandan office on a Master Planning project for a development project in Wahpeton that will involve mapping, stakeholder interviews, and producing a plan outlining options for developing the site.  I answered a question from the City Auditor in Ray on setbacks for a new building and issued a zoning conformance permit.  I reviewed meeting minutes from Horace and developed a list of topics to discuss with the Mayor of Horace the next time we talk.

How can planning assist smaller communities?

Planners can assist communities with both current and long-range planning.   We can be the staff planner for a small community like Ray or Wolf Point when they do not have a planner, and we can help communities develop planning documents.  Even small communities are increasingly required to develop strong planning documents to support requests for infrastructure funding and other community needs.

 

Who benefits from Urban/Regional Planning?

When communities plan well, the public benefits.  Planning projects, like engineering, can often take years to materialize.  In fact, I was just looking back on a plan I helped develop in Kalispell, Montana, almost a decade ago. The plan focus was for their downtown area.  That plan is now resulting in substantial public and private investment in the downtown area of Kalispell, spurring a new round of urban investment in that community.

I also firmly believe that over time Urban/Regional Planning will benefit Interstate Engineering.  I have had the good fortune of working with the western region staff at the company over the past five years and have had the opportunity to meet much of the staff across the rest of the firm.  As we grow our planning services step by step, ensuring quality products and service, we will have another specialized offering to market to our clients with the goal of helping the communities where we work to make good choices.

 

Brent Moore, AICP

 

 

Brent Moore, AICP, is the Planning Director for Interstate Engineering. He is based from our Red Lodge office. If you have questions about planning, please reach out at brent.moore@interstateeng.com or (406) 445-3133.