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Zimmer changing career paths: City planner to move on

Steven Zimmer is returning to his roots to oversee the family farming operation at Munich, N.D. as well as continue in the profession he loves by starting his own secondary consulting firm. Zimmer spent the last eight years as West Fargo senior city planner. Karen Huber / Pioneer

After eight years as a West Fargo Senior City Planner, Steven Zimmer is returning to his roots to oversee the family farming operation at Munich, N.D. as well as continue in the profession he loves by starting his own secondary consulting firm.

With his parents Richard and Cindy Zimmer retiring, Steven was the natural son to fill the empty shoes and as he approaches the move, which is expected to occur completely by the end of July, his feelings are bittersweet.

"I've always had an attraction with farming and felt at home there," he stated. "But I want everyone to know that if I wasn't going there, I definitely wouldn't be leaving here. I feel like I've grown up in this job all the while the city has been growing up. There's no place in the country I could be doing what I've been doing here."

The plan is to farm pretty much full time the spring and summer months, concentrating on the consulting aspect mostly in the winter. Addressing the latter, Zimmer said he will be focusing his expertise toward the smaller western North Dakota communities in need of assistance with creating zoning ordinances to control what is happening in their communities with all the oil patch-related growth.

"There are a lot of communities to the west feeling the spillover and looking for someone with my knowledge set. I really like being involved with planning and I want to stay connected to my degree."

What makes the transition a little easier is the fact his family: wife, Carrie, and children, Lauren, 9, Lily, 23 months, and Leo, four months, are looking forward to the change because of their familiarity with the area and the people. "We have a of family there and there are a lot of younger people living there who have stayed to farm thanks to the good economy."

Zimmer said he has actually been planning the move for quite some time taking his vacation in the spring and summer to help out with farming and during harvest season. "The city's been really great about keeping me on and accommodating my needs and I really appreciate that."

Reflecting on his career with the West Fargo planning department, Zimmer describes the action as hectic but great. "It's been a busy but controlled chaos with all the growth and a building cycle that has grown to be year-round," he stated.

During his tenure his involvement has indeed covered the gamut of day-to-day planning issues from updating zoning ordinances, to developers making subdivision requests, to activity as simple as constructing a building and making sure specifications meet ordinance provisions that conform with city codes."

Zimmer can name many planning projects he is proud of, but the one that stands out is one that hasn't yet totally gotten off the round -- the Sheyenne Street and Main Avenue Framework study, the intent of which is a regeneration of business along the two 'old downtown' thoroughfares. Projects in this area have already been completed on Sandy's Donuts and Off the Wall Advertising and work is presently underway on a redo of The Silver Dollar, Choice Financial and Border Town Bar and Grill. Zimmer said by the time he leaves, his "hope is the program will even be more sound. I think this will be really good for the city."

He also maintains an affection for any planning project he's been involved with in the newer southern part of the city beyond the Interstate

Zimmer said he hopes some of this relationship building will result in consulting connections for him once his move is complete. "Because of my associations, I know people that I may possibly be able to do some work with in the future."

With his last city of West Fargo planning and zoning days, officially set for July 26, Zimmer reiterates his thankfulness for being a part of an almost perfect position. "Very few planners get to experience through their whole careers what I've been able to do in eight years here. The people I have worked with have been phenomenal, especially Larry (Weil) my boss and mentor. He taught me more in the time I've been here than I could have learned anywhere else. I have great admiration for Jim Brownlee (City Administrator) who has shown me how what we do in the Planning Department affects the rest of the city. He treats all employees with respect and allows us to do our jobs. Lisa (Sankey-Brungardt, assistant planner) has also been great at keeping Larry and I on task and on schedule; as have the city and planning and zoning boards who have always respected the staff and understood what their role is in the development process."

West Fargo city staff holds the same regard for Zimmer.

City Planning Director Larry Weil said that "Steven has been an asset to the community, because of his skills and leadership qualities, always looking out for the best interests of the community, working well with the various city departments, planning and zoning commission and city commission having their respect as a professional planner. He always sought out ways to improve the planning department functions and established an interdepartmental coordination process which involves all the city departments and the developer early on when development applications are submitted. This benefits both the city and developer as issues are identified early so they can be adequately addressed by the developer prior to planning and zoning and city commission consideration so delays can be avoided. Similarly, he has been instrumental in getting an interdepartmental online code enforcement and building permit review program established which will help streamline those processes."

City Administrator Jim Brownlee added that Zimmers departure "is going to leave some large shoes to fill. Steve is one of the state's most knowledgeable planners on land use and zoning requirements. He had a great vision for a properly planned community and was the driving force on the downtown redevelopment district rules. In addition to his knowledge, he was a great person to work with and from city staff to city commission to the development community he will be greatly missed. I would like to wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors."

On a parting note, one last action Zimmer said he would like to be involved with is training his predecessor who is expected to be in place by the middle of June.

"The city is in great hands right now with Mayor Mattern running the show and I hope that whoever they hire in my stead I will be able to work with for at least a month to show them how the planning department fits into the city machine. I want them to be able to step in and not miss a beat, and hopefully, I can be helpful in that regard."