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Medlin Hired as Planning Director: A Breath of Fresh Air

With regard to the announcement that Steve Medlin has been hired as Durham’s 
new planning director. All I can say is Whoooo-Hooooo!

Since former City/County Planning Director Frank Duke left the post last
summer (for a similar job in Norfolk, VA), Steve Medlin has been the interim
planning director, and he has quickly demonstrated his commitment to the
long-term health and viability of ALL of Durham -- urban, suburban and rural.

The announcement of Medlin’s permanent position as planning director is
certainly timely, as it occurred only days after the News and Observer
posted an article
on the “Morreene Rd. zoning fiasco” (Saturday, 1 March,
2008), highlighting the mess left by former planning director Frank Duke.
The heart of the matter is former planning director Frank Duke's
interpretation [‘regarding setback, buffer and surface requirements’] of
Durham's Unified Development Ordinance, which allowed SunRay to construct
its building, and his explanation of that interpretation in an e-mail
exchange with some of the building's neighbors,” explains the article.

Toward the end of his post and since his departure, Duke’s pro-development 
planning approach -- at the cost of Durham citizen communication (if in
opposition), adequate infrastructure, and environmental resources -- has
been difficult to dispute. Demonstrating this point is a statement from
George Stanziale (the applicant for the recently controversial Jordan at
Southpoint in rural S. Durham), printed in the Independent Weekly (20 Feb,
2002), in which he says of the planning staff: "Their job is to protect and
legislate the ordinance. But when someone wants to get something done on a
piece of property, and it doesn't meet the ordinance or a particular plan,
say, a small-area plan, they're going to always work with us to see how we
can get it done."

Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 5, 10 AM), the Joint City County Planning
Committee will review amendments to the Conservation subdivision section of
the UDO, providing stronger language ensuring its intent – to protect Durham’s
environmental resources. Medlin, with extensive help from
Planning Department
Staff Julia Mullin and Helen Youngblood, took on this task almost immediately
upon becoming interim planning director. Furthermore, Medlin’s planning
department worked with the Jordan at Southpoint development team and ensured
that they not only committed to the intent of Conservation Subdivision
requirements when the project was submitted, but also committed to the
amended guidelines not yet presented to the JCCPC.

As further demonstration of their commitment to uphold Durham citizens’ intent
of the UDO and the comprehensive plan, Medlin’s planning department recommended
denial of the comprehensive plan amendment requested by Epcon development on
Farrington Road (at last week’s Board of County Commissioners’ meeting). Among
other reasons, and in agreement with the Planning Commission, the Planning
Department stated that Epcon’s proposed density increase is inconsistent with
the Comprehensive Plan. (The BOCC approved the amendment with a 3-2 vote).

It’s no surprise that Duke’s replacement by Steve Medlin has many Durham
citizens breathing a sigh of relief. And there’s no doubt they are now
breathing more deeply, in the knowledge that Medlin is here to stay.
Afterall, it’s easier to breath when the air is clean.

Melissa Rooney



John Schelp

Excellent commentary, Melissa. Many thanks.

Dave N.

Steve Medlin is a great choice for the post of planning director. He has the longstanding respect of both the development community and those very wary of development.

The only surprise here is that he agreed to take the job. He certainly doesn't need the hassle. He is truly a public servant.

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