Veteran Little Rock planner Tony Bozynski will take over as director of planning and development later this month, after 26 years with the city, the last two as director of housing and neighborhood programs.
The job will put him in charge of overseeing the city's physical development. When developers want changes in how their land is zoned or how small they can subdivide their property or whether they can get around city ordinances, his staff advises Planning Commission members on what to do.
Bozynski came to Little Rock from California as a VISTA volunteer in 1975. After a year as the Bentonville city planner, he went to work for the Little Rock planning department in 1978. He rose to assistant director in 1997, and moved over to the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Programs in 2002.
We talked with him about his new job and how he plans to juggle the diverse interests the planning process can involve.
Why did you want the job?
I spent about 25 years in the planning department before I came here [to Housing and Neighborhood Programs]. I started as neighborhood planner, and was assistant director before. Everyone in this profession eventually wants to be a planning director.
There are a lot of really exciting things going on in this city right now: The River Market, the presidential library, Heifer International, the new retail project in Midtown. I want to get back involved in those kinds of things.
What do you want to accomplish first?
One thing I want to do is get with staff and review what's happened in the last couple of years and figure out where there may be deficits in some of the ordinances or the processes we've been using.
Several years ago we had Vision Little Rock - I'd like to review what came out of that planning team and see if some of those ideas are being kept up.
I've always felt design of development is important. I would like to develop some urban design plans for part of the city. In the summer of 2002, the mayor asked the planning department to look at the area east of I-30. To develop a concept and basic urban design ideas (streetscaping, building design, the physical features of an area - how to connect central destination points).
I want to continue what I think is very positive: seeing development and redevelopment happening - that balanced growth - to have investment in all parts of the city. And to ensure that all sides of an issue are being heard - I think that's been happening.
What's the biggest planning and development challenge Little Rock faces now?
Biggest challenge is just to ensure that there's balanced growth throughout the city. It's critical to the future of Little Rock that the city has healthy neighborhoods. Just within last five years we've started to see areas ... with new development opportunities. The Community Development Corporations are developing affordable single-family residences. I think that's very positive. I feel the city realizes now the importance of that University Avenue corridor, 12th Street, that whole area. It's vital to have every part of the city healthy, providing vital services to people.
What's the best way to effect Midtown commercial revitalization?
Just to promote the area. The city brought in the Urban Land Institute to assess the University Avenue corridor. They set frameworks. It's important to the city to set that as building block, to move in that direction.
Will West Little Rock expansion have to be reined in to help Midtown's regrowth?
Midtown and West Little Rock - I don't know if they're connected … Midtown, I think it's just a very important area to the city. The need is to provide the same kind of services in that part of city as in West Little Rock. The ULI final report said that they felt that Midtown could be a strong destination point for the city and the region.
West Little Rock provides a product that a lot of people are comfortable with. I hope eventually we can see those same types of uses in other parts of this city.
What has Little Rock done well and poorly in the past?
When I first started, residents felt they weren't being heard in the planning process. That's not true now - they're at the table all the time. What we've done well is working with neighborhood organizations to develop action plans. That's engaged a lot of people and had them get involved in planning issues. And the information that the department provides the planning commission is good.
What major issues face the city in the next five to 10 years?
Development needs to be pedestrian-friendly. That's one thing I'd like to go back and look at, to provide things that make people comfortable with large developments. We need to make sure - are there things we can do to improve those kinds of situations? Not just the use of the land but the design, compatibility with nearby uses, how it's working within the immediate area.
I'm excited about the opportunities and other challenges. The department's done a lot of good things, the staff's very dedicated. This is just a very exciting time with Little Rock and what's going on.