At long last, Denver has a new planning director.
Following a global search, Mayor Michael B. Hancock today announced the appointment of Rocky Piro, a Denver native who has been working at the Puget Sound Regional Council in Seattle, 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,” 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 Hanock, it 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.
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 there. The Puget Sound Regional Council serves 3.6 million people living in a 6,290-square-mile region with 82 cities and four counties. The Denver Regional Council of Governments, or DRCOG, serves about 2.8 million people covering 5,280 square miles with 47 cities and nine counties.
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, chairman 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,” Hancock said.
Susan Barnes-Gelt, a former Denver City Councilwoman who has a keen interest in planning, design and zoning issues, said the jury is still out whether Piro is the right planning director at the right time.
“We have a mayor who needs a mentor - one who can teach him about the fine grain of cities – connections, place, the primacy of the public realm . .- how to mold an emerging urban place, still in formation,” said Barnes-Gelt, who periodically pens a column for the Denver Post. “Denver has the tools: A history of progressive planning” that she said began with Mayor Robert Speer’s “City’s Beautiful” framework. Speer was Denver’s mayor from 1904 to 1912.
More recently, she said, former Mayor Federico Peña eliminated viaducts and championed the redevelopment of the Platte Valley, while former Mayor Wellington Webb expanded Denver’s parks, brought forth Blueprint Denver as a guide for Denver’s zoning, encouraged infill development, while under the watch of former Mayor John Hickenlooper, Denver’s zoning code received its biggest overhaul in 50 years and the Civic Center Park District was created.
“Now Denver needs to pay attention to the interstitial – the details, connecting people to jobs, play, ideas and one another,” Barnes-Gelt said.
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