Georgetown planning director
Andrew Spurgin grew up in North Austin before attending college at New York University to major in urban studies. During his time in New York City, Spurgin worked as an intern in the New York City Port Authority and later in the transportation department where he was focused on bicycle and pedestrian movement. His internship turned into a paid position, and while working for the city he performed a pedestrian study for Times Square. After leaving New York, Spurgin received his master's degree in urban planning from The University of Texas at Austin. He then worked in the private sector with land development projects in the Austin area. Spurgin later held various positions in the City of San Antonio Neighborhood Planning Department for 12 years and also worked in Alexandria, Va. He began working as Georgetown's planning director in October.
What does a planning director do?
I am over the group of people that implement the Georgetown 2030 Comprehensive Plan. This is a long-range plan, and we are five years into it. We have 17 more years to go. How we get there has a lot of moving parts. We have to look at where our utility infrastructure is going, where the roads are going—and Williamson County and their bond program is obviously an important part of the road system—and looking at individual land-use decisions such as zonings, special-use permits, subdivision plats and even site plans piece by piece.
We do a lot of customer consultation, and really helping [applicants] understand [the development process]. We have a process where we ask people to come in before they submit their [site plan] application so we can talk about what their vision is, and we can help them understand what all is required.
What drew your interest to city planning?
I don't know if I can pinpoint one thing in particular. My thoughts started coalescing around this in high school and [were] really based on some traveling and seeing cities that had civic life, shopping districts. And I don't mean malls; I mean shopping districts like Newbury Street in Boston or SoHo in New York where you see the concentration. No one store makes it fabulous, but everything together where you have a place for people to go and connect, it's an experience. That's what excites me: seeing how people come together and can relate to architecture and public squares and how that all fits together with our transportation system and private development.
What do you think makes Georgetown different from places you've previously worked?
I think in Georgetown—and this is one of the things that attracted me—I sense there is more of a shared common vision for the future. We know we are going to grow, so we've put forethought into the roads and utilities in place to support it, but we also know that downtown is our signature. [In] Leander and even Pflugerville, the downtown is not the same experience that you have here. [Downtown] really is a place that we can nurture and continue to attract people to but then provide quality neighborhoods on the periphery and the supporting infrastructure to get around. I think there is a real shared vision for that. That was very refreshing for me to see.
What are the planning challenges Georgetown faces?
Some of the challenges are going to be the population growth. On the one hand, the models that have been done from various sources just show Georgetown—and Williamson County as a whole—going up. Austin spillover is a factor, especially with some large employers located farther north. Dell is this direction. Even Apple, which is adding 3,000 jobs, is further north, so people are going to live in Williamson County. One of the challenges, I think, if you look at the population cohorts in this country, is the boomer generation which drove the housing market for the last 40 years in terms of single-family homes and separation of land uses, and the population behind the boomers is a smaller cohort. I would be concerned there is going to be the next housing crisis, and we need to be mindful of that as we continue to run with our 2030 vision for the future and what kind of housing diversity our city has. There was a recent study that showed the millennial generation would rather give up their car than their smartphone. I interpret that to mean they may make tradeoffs in their choices of living. They may not want the house 10 miles outside of town. They may want to live close in, in something that is not as nice if it means they get to keep their iPhone.
What is your planning philosophy?
My personal philosophy is we need to have an emphasis on customer service, and that's very broad. It doesn't mean the developer walks in the door, and we do whatever he or she asks for. Customer service means that when people contact us—citizens or developers—that we help them understand that we have a unified development code, we have a 2030 plan and all these pieces are related as we are moving toward a common vision.
Are there any new trends that you see happening in Georgetown?
I think we are seeing interest in making better use of properties in downtown. The Two Rivers apartments, for example—[the property] had been a motel, but the site was situated on a major street and had utilities in place, so it made redevelopment easier than going out to somewhere on the edge of the city that didn't have utilities.
I see that trend going on where people look for sites that are going to be easier to use. The lenders continue to be very conservative right now, and I think projects that are easier to get through are going to be what we are going to see for a while.