By Lasca Randels
WARSAW — City improvements are a team effort.
City Planner Justin Taylor made that clear during an interview with InkFreeNews in which he repeatedly gave credit to those he works with.
Taylor became the new city planner in December 2020, filling the position vacated by Jeremy Skinner, who oversaw the plan office for 17 years before being named as the city’s director of Community and Economic Development.
Taylor joined the city plan office five years ago.
Among the projects he’s most proud of are the development of Rotary Park on the city’s west side and the design of the Lucerne Park Amphitheater.
“I was involved with (the amphitheater) as far as the design work goes, but really (parks superintendent) Larry Plummer managed the budget and did some of the finishing touches and they made it really nice. The contractor was amazing as well,” Taylor said. “I wish I could say I built it. It’s a huge thing for the community and a lot of people don’t even realize it’s there.”
When asked about personal achievements since becoming employed with the city in August 2016 as the assistant city planner, Taylor said it’s never an individual accomplishment.
“I don’t like to think of it as things I think I’ve done because it’s always a group effort, any project I’ve been involved in,” Taylor said.
He grew up in Warsaw and said he has a soft spot in his heart for the area.
“We have a lot of summer recreational activities. It’s a lot more dynamic than people realize,” he said.
Taylor, who serves as chair of the Ride+Walk Committee, said although he would not consider himself an avid cyclist, he is passionate about quality of life issues and how bicycling and trails fit into that.
“Like the Lincoln Neighborhood sidewalk project that’s going to be under construction in a year or so, that’s the kind of stuff I really enjoy is enabling children to walk back and forth to school and not have to walk in the street,” Taylor said. “We want to make sure the city is doing everything we can to help make that safe.”
Taylor said the biggest challenge of being the city planner is “just being able to understand all the intricacies of the job itself.”
“Not only do you have to deal with foot plan issues and regulations regarding that through FEMA, the DNR but also code enforcement issues…two neighbors having a dispute, the minutia of building codes,” Taylor said. “Fortunately, I have a code team to help with all those things.”
Taylor said staying up to date with the latest technologies, building and zoning codes and environmental regulations involves a lot of research, reading, studying and having a great team.
“Again, I’m going to point to the team I have. Ray (Behling) is the city building commissioner He’s a great guy and he’s able to offer his expertise. James Emans is the city engineer and he’s a wealth of knowledge, too. The city is really fortunate to have someone like James Emans in our department,” Taylor said. “I don’t ever go into a situation thinking I have all the answers. I want to talk to five or six people about each thing just in case there’s some angle that I’m missing.”
He also had high praise for his predecessor.
“I definitely feel like I have huge shoes to fill following Jeremy (Skinner). He’s a brilliant guy and I just want to continue the work he started and continue to improve the city through those projects,” Taylor said. “I want to keep things going in the direction they’re heading because I feel that Jeremy really has set the planning department in a good direction.”
Taylor said the biggest strength impacting his job is his creative problem-solving ability in looking for different solutions to difficult problems.
“Sometimes I’m faced with lose-lose situations and choices where somebody is going to be upset regardless of what you do, but you just try to do the right thing according to the ordinances and what the intention of those ordinances is,” Taylor said.
In his free time, Taylor does oil paintings. At one point in time, when Taylor resided in Chicago, his paintings were hung up and sold in coffee shops.
He enjoys outdoor activities as well, including kayaking, hiking and camping.
The most enjoyable part of his job, Taylor said, is having the opportunity to be involved with a group of people who are passionate about improving the city.
“Suzie Light is one who comes to mind, Ernie Wiggins, the city council — like Jeff Grose. It’s hard to even mention names because it could go on and on. There are a lot of people who are just so engaged and so involved in the city…it’s not one person,” Taylor said. “I just feel like the community has been lucky to have so many dedicated people who go above and beyond to make it better.”