Top city planner named 'development czar'

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Pittsburgh Planning Director Pat Ford will become the city's development czar, assigned to unify efforts to assist new construction and job creation, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced yesterday.

Mr. Ford's title will be director of economic and community development, and his role will shift from monitoring and regulating development to encouraging it.

"It's important to have a leader, or a point person, for individuals and developers to go to, to get the job done," said Mr. Ravenstahl. He said the city has to become "an advocate" rather than "an obstacle" to construction and jobs.

Mr. Ford's role of late has included helping to craft a proposed tax abatement plan for new housing Downtown and in 20 neighborhoods. He said he wouldn't neglect the city's many smaller business districts.

"I've been listening to the residents. I've been listening to the businesses," he said of his tenure in government. "The pulse of this city runs through the neighborhoods."

The mayor and Mr. Ford said they will try to streamline permitting processes, while preserving community input into large developments.

They said another priority will be coordinating the activities of city departments with the work of independent authorities that are involved in development, like the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, the Housing Authority and the Parking Authority.

Mr. Ford will be nominated to the Housing Authority board, and likely will leave his seat on the Parking Authority board. The housing post requires City Council confirmation, but it is unclear whether his new position as development czar will need council action.

Mr. Ford had earned $85,292 as planning director last year and will make about $94,000 in his new job, the mayor said.

Mr. Ford, a 44-year-old Lincoln Place resident, was the city zoning administrator during 21/2 years of Mayor Tom Murphy's term. He left to take on a similar role in Pompano Beach, Fla., before returning to become planning director under Mayor Bob O'Connor in January 2006.

There is precedent for having a development chief in the mayor's office. Mr. Murphy had Stephen Leeper in that role, until he became director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority.

Mr. Ravenstahl nominated Assistant Planning Director Noor Ismael to replace Mr. Ford as planning director at a salary of $87,414. That post requires council confirmation.

Ms. Ismael is 42 and has been employed in the Planning Department for six months, following a stint as a development consultant in Florida. She has a master's degree in planning and lives in Brookline.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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