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Oswego eliminates planning and zoning department

Payne Horning
Oswego held several public workshops for the major streetscape beautification project it's undertaking. The city's planning and zoning department, which was just eliminated, is administering the project.

In addition to cutting more than a dozen jobs from Oswego's fire and police services at its Monday meeting, the city's common council also eliminated the entire planning and zoning department. 

Under the approved budget, the department will be split up -- planning functions will move over to the community development office along with $60,000 from the department's former budget and the zoning responsibilities will move to the city's engineering department. Council President Shawn Walker said that will speed along the permitting process, which he said has stalled developers on too many occasions.

"There’s a lot of different areas that was getting lax on and wasn’t getting done and we want to be more efficient," Walker said. "I think we can streamline it through different departments to work it all together and they can go from there."

But planning and zoning director Amy Birdsall said councilors are confusing the lengthy legal process required by recent historical projects with inefficiency. She and some councilors argue that this is bad timing for getting rid of the department.

"I think with the direction of the city, all the grants and development that we have coming into place it doesn’t make sense to cram it all into one office," Councilor Eric VanBuren said. "When we have two offices that can help in those capabilities, we’re going to see a better product. It’s going to be better for the city." 

The city is just starting a $10 million downtown overhaul. Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said a joint state and local steering committee will oversee the downtown revitalization project. As for the major streetscape beautification project that Birdsall is currently implementing and other department initiatives, Barlow said the city's leaders will have to get creative. 

"I’ll talk with them and what direction they want to go in and how we’re going to fill the gap that now exists, but we will get through it," Barlow said. "People will have to work harder and step up on the third floor." 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.