Longtime Annapolis resident Steve Kaii-Ziegler started his new position as the county’s director of the Office of Planning and Zoning on July 31 and immediately got acquainted with Severna Park residents during a special town hall meeting held the next day at Severna Park High School.
Kaii-Ziegler took over from former Planning and Zoning Director Phil Hager, who was appointed in July 2017, after succeeding Larry Tom, who retired after serving nearly a decade in the position.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be here and to bring my experience home to Anne Arundel County,” said Kaii-Ziegler, who has worked in this field for four other Maryland counties, but never in Anne Arundel County before now.
Kaii-Ziegler brings nearly three decades of experience leading planning efforts in Charles, Frederick, Harford and Queen Anne’s counties. He has also held positions with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and with the City of Alexandria, Virginia.
So far, he has been busy getting accustomed to his new position. In addition to meeting with the public, he is still getting to know the Planning and Zoning team. “I love meeting people, and I’ve been impressed with the staff,” he said. “It’s a very dedicated staff, and I am very pleased with that.”
Kaii-Ziegler said that his department is now in the unusual position of hiring more employees after years of reductions. “We’re ramping staff up and looking for office space,” he said.
The new director was pleased to say that he and County Executive Steuart Pittman share many of the same passions regarding land preservation, environmental protection and sustainable growth. “Many of my goals align with the county executive’s,” noted Kaii-Ziegler. “I met him for the first time a couple of months ago, and we had a fabulous conversation.”
The county is currently updating its General Development Plan while holding meetings with the Citizen Advisory Committee, a 13-member commission responsible for providing input to the Office of Planning Zoning. Kaii-Ziegler’s priority initiatives will be to orient the county to future small-area processes, comprehensive rezoning, and rewriting the zoning code. “It’s a lot of work to do over the next eight to 10 years,” he admitted.
From his extensive experience, Kaii-Ziegler knows that each jurisdiction is unique, but he hopes to identify inefficiencies and make adjustments. “We’re at the very early stages to how to do things better,” he acknowledged.
Kaii-Ziegler explained that his new framework of thinking is balancing the interests of all parties. His aim is to take a closer look at adopted policies, including the GDP, codes and ordinances. “Our elected officials adopted them, so it is important to carry them out,” he said. “We shouldn’t ignore any policies but make adjustments if needed.”
Kaii-Ziegler discussed his ideas on sustainable growth, including where and how to grow. His preference is to concentrate on redevelopment of underutilized sites as opposed to developing green fields. He also noted climate change is becoming a more prominent issue. Kaii-Ziegler enrolled in the climate education academy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a phenomenal educational program,” he touted. “Climate change will affect future plans and regulations. I want to orient staff to this area and adapt as best as we can.”
As for environmental protection, Kaii-Ziegler plans to evaluate environmental issues from a modification perspective. “A major goal of mine is to determine what we protect versus what we allow and be respectful of the laws to achieve the best balanced position for county land use.”