Nearly a year ago, Claremore native and Oologah graduate Jill Hall Ferenc returned to her roots and took the position as Claremore’s City Planner. She now runs a “one-stop shop” for potential developers coming to town.
After graduation from Oologah-Talala High School, Jill attended Oklahoma State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. This is impressive enough to me; I took two econ classes at OSU and still couldn’t tell you what it is. While in school, she sat through a workshop about city planning, and became intrigued with the idea of pursuing it as a career. She went on to attend the University of Oklahoma and received her master’s degree in city planning. (She’s not an OSU traitor; OU is the only university in the state with a planning school.) Jill interned in Washington, D.C., and then took a job in Texas after graduation. After four years, she and her husband decided it was time to return to Jill’s home, and they are back in small-town Oklahoma.
Jill offices at 724 Ramm Road, what I knew as the water department. (It’s not anymore.) Now the building houses the departments of Planning & Zoning, Engineering, Code Enforcement, Permitting, Inspections, and Public Works. She has a lot on her plate, as before her arrival, Claremore had been without a strategic planner on staff for more than five years.
As someone who has never built a building (I couldn’t build a birdhouse), I didn’t really know what a City Planner does. Jill told me that back in 2006, Claremore developed a comprehensive 20-year plan, designed as a guide for the growth and development of the city. Extensive research is done on all of the land to determine which plots are ideal for commercial and residential zoning. Factors such as transportation access, the surrounding area, stormwater runoff, drainage and infrastructure are all studied when considering the use of land. Zoning for a manufacturing facility is different from a strip mall, which is different from a neighborhood, and so on and so forth.
Here’s how it works: Mr. Smith decides that Claremore is a great place to build his new hamburger joint. He schedules an appointment with Jill. She tells him that his potential plot of land is either great for a hamburger joint or not, based on the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance the city has already set up. Because they’ve already done the legwork, you see? And they know if plot ABC that Mr. Smith wants is better suited for a beauty shop than a restaurant. The majority of Jill’s days are spent meeting with developers, architects, engineers, landscape designers, and other city staffers to help coordinate new development and plan for the future. The “one-stop shop” method holds great appeal for those coming to town, as they can meet with everyone at once and save plenty of time. With multiple departments at the same location, it’s easy for new customers to take care of development needs under one roof. Jill and her team provide input and help developers to envision and achieve their dreams.
If a building site needs to be rezoned, a hearing is held with the planning commission and the city council, and Jill assists with that, as well.
I asked Jill what advice she would like to give the citizens of Claremore who are interested in learning more about our local government. This is what she said: We need people to be involved and help shape our city. Check for openings on a city board or committee that suits your interests. The public is also invited to attend City Council meetings, which are held on the first and third Monday of each month at City Hall. The Planning Commission meetings are open to the public and are held on the first and third Tuesday of each month, also at City Hall.
Jill said, “Claremore is on the right path for exponential growth. We are experiencing a lot of it right now with the three new hotels and the St. John clinic. Our industrial park is also growing, and so is RSU. This means new jobs. Everyone can do their part by staying informed and getting involved. And don’t forget to shop Claremore first!”
-MCM Staffer Ashley,
who now knows a bit about city planning,
but still couldn’t build a birdhouse