Who’s Who: Will Guerin
Director of Planning & Development
To start things off, can you tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from?
I grew up in Tyler, Texas. I lived in a few different locations but ended up in Dallas for high school. I earned both my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning from Texas State University. I worked in the Austin area for a number of years in a similar role and started in Garland in 2015.
What attracted you to planning as a career?
My favorite game growing up was SimCity. I was fascinated by cities, how they grow and evolve. I loved creating new cities or replicating cities I loved visiting, but I didn’t know that this passion could be a profession. I decided at first to study geography, which is why I chose Texas State, but you have to pick a concentration for that major. After taking a course in Urban and Regional planning, I connected the dots with playing SimCity, so I chose that as my concentration and went from there.
Do you have a favorite city?
Garland, of course! But besides Garland, New Orleans is a particular favorite of mine. The city has wonderful urbanism, culture, architecture, and in my opinion, the best food!
How do you explain urban planning to someone who may not know what it is as a field?
There are two sides to planning, long-range planning and current planning. In the long-term, we’re planning for the growth of the city, which involves thinking about land use and infrastructure. In Garland’s case, since we’re largely built out, we focus a bit more on redevelopment and revitalization strategies.
In the short-term, we stay busy with development reviews. That means reviewing new development requests and making sure they fit within Garland’s comprehensive plan and our land-use and zoning regulations. We also facilitate the rezoning process. My team and I present and make recommendations on zoning requests to the Planning Commission and to the Garland City Council and they make the final decision, taking into account our technical expertise.
We also do a lot of coordination, bringing together various departments for the pre-development process. We want to make sure everyone has their eyes on it as early as possible and give developers and other applicants the most comprehensive and accurate information as possible upfront.
So what does a day-to-day look like on the job?
On a daily basis, we field a lot of questions over email and phone about permitting, land use, zoning districts and getting the development process started. We get frequent walk-ins as well, often interacting with citizens who have concerns and questions about what’s going on in or around their neighborhood, or with business owners who come in with an idea about opening a business in another location. We meet regularly with developers, engineers, architects, and consultants.
What are some of the challenges you face on the job?
The development demand in Garland has remained high every year I’ve been here, which is a good challenge to have. We strive to make sure we run a consistent development process that treats everyone with equity. With Garland being mostly built out, it is common for rezoning requests to be adjacent to existing neighborhoods. A lot of folks are accustomed to living adjacent to a site that’s been vacant and now all of a sudden, it’s being considered for development. This can be a distressing thing for a lot of residents. We follow state and local procedures to make sure that neighbors are aware of what’s going on and be as clear and transparent as possible, but it’s not uncommon to hear a lot of concerns and fears expressed during public hearings. But I will say, the most rewarding part of this job is knowing we had a good and fair public hearing process.
How do you navigate the reality that both small businesses and large developers are interested in development and growth in Garland?
We try to keep in mind that while we want to treat everyone equally, there’s a difference between a mom-and-pop business and an experienced land developer. The larger developers are used to the development process, spending lots of money on plans and application fees and speaking before Council. Our smaller businesses are not used to that. The process can be intimidating to some folks, so we try to be sensitive to that. We have structured our fee schedule to account for smaller types of zoning requests and really try to put forth extra effort to walk them through the process.
What are some interesting trends that are influencing how you think about Garland’s long-term development?
Retail has changed, for one. There’s less demand for big box stores and abundant off-street parking, plus autonomous vehicles have the potential to affect how parking is handled in the future. We’re also noticing big changes in terms of online shopping and needing more shipping and distribution centers, especially after COVID. This means more trucks on the road. On the other hand, we’re seeing more demand for drive-throughs and take-out windows at restaurants and coffee and tea establishments. Walking and biking trails are also extremely important and have become almost a must-have in and around new residential developments.
What’s some advice you have for how small business owners can set themselves up for success in Garland?
As far as my department goes, if you have an idea on a new business or physical expansion, it’s always best to check in with the city as early as possible so you don’t run into any potential issues later. We’re a resource that’s available for anyone who has questions about whether something is allowed per zoning, or if there’s some kind of variance or process that will allow them to achieve what they want to do. Talk with us as early as possible.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy playing golf, reading, watching the Cowboys and Mavs, and I also help coach my daughter’s basketball team and my son’s soccer team. We stay pretty active on the weekends, enjoying all the Metroplex has to offer!
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