Michael Hancock taps Rocky Piro as his planning director: Let's see what develops

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Mayor Michael Hancock's cabinet is finally complete. Late last week, he announced that he had hired a planning director to fill the slot that Peter Park left in mid-2011: Rocky Piro, a native of Denver who's been working in Washington State. And one of the first things Piro should plan to do is sit down with owners who've been complaining about the challenges of opening a business in Denver.

And no, I'm not talking Walmart.

Neighbors called foul on the proposal to put a Walmart in the Colorado Boulevard Healthcare District project planned by Jeff Fuqua; the city looked ready to authorize tax-increment financing for the deal until two Denver City Council members whose districts border that property came out against the TIF. Fuqua has since gone back to the drawing board, and whatever he comes up with next will certainly be a major focus for Piro -- and the entire city.

Piro won't start his job for another six weeks, though, which may be too late to clean up the quagmire that has swamped the First Avenue Hotel, which has an October 31 deadline to come to an agreement with the department on a repair plan at the circa 1906 building or face being slapped with another notice to vacate.

But Jesse Morreale is not the only business owner to complain about confusing, and sometimes conflicting, instructions/inspections coming from the planning department. Restaurateurs charge that expensive, last-second switches have postponed openings needlessly; one says it was easier to open an entire restaurant in San Diego than add a little patio to his place in Denver.

Has the absence of an official planning director exascerbated the problem? Peter Park, who'd been appointed to the position by John Hickenlooper, made a new zoning code the focus of his tenure; that was adopted in June 2010, and he left to teach at Harvard more than a year ago. Molly Urbina, who held down the fort as Park's deputy director, will continue in that post.

Here's last Thursday's announcement from the Mayor's Office:

Mayor Hancock Appoints Rocky Piro as New Manager of Community Planning and Development

Mayor Michael B. Hancock today announced the appointment of Rocky Piro as Manager for the Department of Community Planning and Development. In his capacity as manager, Piro will be responsible for implementing visionary city planning and ensuring safe, responsible, sustainable building throughout Denver.

"A smart, 21st century planning department depends on innovative ideas," Mayor Hancock said. "Rocky brings with him the knowledge to enact a global vision for Denver to help spur economic development while reinforcing the city's goals around sustainability and livability for our neighborhoods."

The Department of Community Planning and Development is in charge of managing, planning and building within Denver, including designing and implementing citywide and neighborhood plans, establishing construction and design standards, coordinating revitalization efforts, managing historic preservation and performing code enforcement and education.

An international search for a new manager was conducted by Affion Public. Under the directive of the Mayor, Affion set out to find a slate of potential candidates who would bring cutting edge ideas, practices and a global vision to the department. A panel of city and industry leaders was then tasked with narrowing the list of applicants.

"I'm excited to join this forward-thinking team and anxious to get to work implementing the Mayor's vision for city planning and development," Piro said. "I look forward to working with our agencies, neighborhoods, development community and other partners."

Piro will begin his work at the city on Dec. 10, 2012.

A Denver native, Piro has worked with the Seattle-area's Puget Sound Regional Council since 1992 and currently serves as Program Manager of the Growth Management Department. Among his most notable achievements was the development of VISION 2040, a regional agreement on major new and emerging planning and policy issues - including sustainability, climate change and public health. The Puget Sound region's integrated long-range planning strategy is recognized as one of the most pioneering and innovative regional plans in the United States.

Piro has been active with professional organizations and with educational institutions. A member of the board of the American Planning Association's Regional and Intergovernmental Planning Division since 1987, he was elected chair in 2012. He also serves on the board of the International Urban Planning and Environment Association and has received a number of awards throughout his career, including the Professional Achievement Award by the Washington State Chapter of the American Planning Association. In 2010, Piro was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Following a Bachelor of Arts degree from Valparaiso University, Piro earned a Master's Degree in Planning and Community Development from the University of Colorado-Denver in 1986 and a Doctorate of Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington in 1993.

"What Rocky brings with him is a career of positively implementing urban planning strategies," said Brad Buchanan, Chair of the Denver Planning Board. "That experience and background in regional collaboration and planning makes him an ideal fit to lead the department."

Molly Urbina, who has served as interim manager since July 2011, will remain at the city as Deputy Director of Community Planning and Development.

"Together with Development Services Director Kelly Leid, Rocky and Molly will make a formidable team as we begin to maximize the contribution our city planning can have on the future of our economic growth," Mayor Hancock said.

Soon after Peter Park became Denver's planning director, Westword joined him for a game of Sim City. See what developed in our feature "Building for the Future."

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