By James Michaels
WILTON MANORS, FL– Heidi Shafran is the newly-hired director of Community Development Services Department for the City of Wilton Manors. The position had been vacant for over a year.
The major functions of the Community Development Services Department include fire prevention and investigation, occupational licensing, building permitting and inspection, landscape inspection and zoning administration. The Department also provides administrative support to the Development Review Committee, the Board of Adjustment, the Planning and Zoning Board and the Code Enforcement Board.
Shafran was born in Fort Lauderdale and raised in Plantation. She did her undergraduate work in North Carolina and received her Master’s Degree in Heritage Preservation Planning in Atlanta. She returned to Broward County in late 1998 where she settled down, bought a house and got a job as executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, the organization that’s credited with saving South Beach’s Art Deco buildings. After a year, she went to work with community activist and Miami Beach City Commissioner Nancy Liebman, who was also interested in the arts, culture and historic preservation. After two years, Shafran moved over to the City of Hollywood as their historic preservation officer and principle community planner. She remained with Hollywood until 2004, when she was contacted by a headhunter for the Seminole Indian Tribe which was looking for a professional planner to create and run their first planning department. She stayed there until she went to work for the City of Wilton Manors.
Shafran says that her biggest challenge right now is the economy; however, she also sees this as an opportunity to get all her tools and incentives in place. She has taken this time to restructure the department so that everything is lined up and ready to go when the economy improves.
One of the first changes that she made was for what is being called “Walk Through Tuesdays.” Shafran said that the idea was given to her by Wilton Manors City Manager Joe Gallegos when she first started. The program is for property owners wanting to do their own small property improvements requiring a building permit (such as changing out an air conditioner unit, replacing windows, putting in a sprinkler system or other routine upgrades). If the property owner comes in and submits their paperwork before 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, and all the paperwork is in order, the property owner should have their permit by 2 p.m. the same day.
“We can only do so much to help our business owners if the property owners do not understand what’s going on,” she said. “ I give them recommendations.
From the city’s perspective, there’s nothing legislatively we can do, so the best I can do is to be a good friend to them and keep the lines of communications open.”
Shafran is also trying to streamline the permitting process, which is currently operated by the County, by privatizing the operation. Currently, there are two private companies, in addition to Broward County, who are bidding on the issuing of building permits. Shafran must have the final alternative chosen by October 1st, when the new fiscal year begins. “Whether it goes to a private firm or Broward County, there has to be substantial changes to the level of service we’re providing,” said Shafran. “And those changes have to have me, as Director, as the point of contact as the person between doing the building reviews and inspection and the person who is communicating that message out.
She sees her role as taking charge of reviewers, planners and inspectors. One change she made immediately after taking her position was limiting the number of times plans can go back and forth between the building designers and the plan reviewers. Shafran has also helped property owners contact local design professionals who know the local building codes. “We can review the plans, but if the plans aren’t meeting our building and life safety codes, we can’t approve. There’s a liability there for everybody involved, so getting them to understand what needs to be done and what kind of designer they need to hire … we are working cordially and proactively,” she said. “One of the expressions I use with my staff is that every ‘no’ must lead to a ‘yes’.”
She also commented on the “Two-Lane Initiative” proposal, providing only two lanes of traffic on Wilton Drive and increasing parking along the entire road. “From a business development perspective, the two lane initiative is a nice thing to have, but the other things that came along with the two lane initiative – the wider sidewalks, the landscaping – those things are important to the development of the city. Do we need wider sidewalks so we can have sidewalk cafes and creating that symmetry? Absolutely. Do we need shaded sidewalks? Absolutely. Those are the things that will aid in our development. It’s a future Las Olas or Hollywood Boulevard.”
In addition to Wilton Drive, Shafran also sees other improvements that can be made in the city. On N.E. 26 Street, east of Dixie Highway she would like to see some business parks there and encourage businesses to relocate to Wilton Manors. The same could be said along Andrews Avenue. Both areas, she said, are regional traffic corridors and Andrews Avenue has mass transit.
She said the city could use a façade improvement program, and she is trying to identify some grant funds so that the city can establish a program.
She is also looking to short term improvements in parking on the north end of Wilton Drive. She said that the city is trying to identify lots and negotiating with property owners. But the best long-term land usage would be a mixed use development with a parking component tied in.
“We have the national reputation for being a gay and lesbian destination and we need to continue to work on that and honor that reputation,” concludes Shafran.
Photo courtesy, James Michaels