Longtime Auburn Planning Director Forrest Cotten resigned last week after helping steer the city over nearly 16 years through a number of initiatives that provided the framework to guide the city's growth into the future.
Cotten, whose resignation will go into effect Dec. 2, has accepted the position of growth management director for St. Johns County in Florida, where he will oversee long-range planning, zoning and planning, development review and environmental and transportation planning, among other duties.
"It's a very unique opportunity," said Cotten, a Florida native who, along with his wife, has plenty of family living in the state. "To have the opportunity to be closer to basically both sides of both our family, and to have the opportunity to finish my career where I came from is also a unique opportunity that would have been very difficult to turn down."
After serving for five years as planning manager in Cape Coral, Florida, Cotten came to Auburn during a "difficult time" that had recently seen a good amount of turnover at the planning director position, said City Manager Jim Buston.
"Forrest took over a very difficult position. It has been in my tenure here, it's one that it's almost never a situation where you've pleased everyone, so the idea is you have to do what you do as a professional, and that's your professional opinion," said Buston. "It doesn't matter what you do; somebody is upset with you. I think during Forrest's time here, he has done an excellent job. You can burn out very quickly, and the fact that he's been here 16 years, that's saying something."
Cotten said he feels "very fortunate" for the time he has spent with his family in Auburn.
"It's a very family-oriented community," he said. "I think if you have the opportunity to raise kids in a town like this, you're pretty darned fortunate."
Under Cotten's leadership, the Planning Department's efforts have won a number of awards from the Alabama Chapter of the American Planning Association, including for Auburn's Interactive Growth Model, CompPlan 2030, Downtown Master Plan, Renew Opelika Road Plan and, most recently, the Northwest Auburn Neighborhood Plan.
Cotten touted the city's comprehensive land-use plan, CompPlan 2030, as the most major accomplishment of the department during his tenure.
"We've done a lot of good work. I credit the staff — a good bunch of folks here. You look at the fact that we didn't have a parcel-based comprehensive plan when I came here, and that was really the first charge as the incoming director," said Cotten, who noted it set the foundation for other plans and detailed focus area studies. "Folks may recall that it took a few years, really, from the time we began to do the growth-modeling work and set the data foundation for the plan, to actually beginning to get people engaged and get public input on what the comprehensive plan was all about and what it means for your property, and then actually championing it through the process to its ultimate adoption in October of 2011."
The city will begin advertising for the position "pretty quickly" after they finish reviewing the job description and deciding whether any changes need to be made, said Buston, who added that an interim director will be appointed soon as well. He said a new planning director could be hired in January at the earliest and that efforts currently in the works, like the formation of short-term rental regulations, would continue as planned.