2009 PFIG Recipient Joanne Tu

Career Administrator

Joanne Tu
School of Architecture
Urban & Environmental Planning Major
2010 Graduation Year

Internship: Albemarle County Community Development Department

The Albemarle County Community Development Department is currently divided into four divisions: Planning, Zoning and Current Development, Inspections, and Central Operations. We are located at the Albemarle County Office Building , one of two local government headquarters. I have worked in the Zoning and Current Development division since October 2007. Since I am in my second year at our office, I didn’t go through the typical introductions and training that interns usually go through in their first week. I dived straight into wrapping up my current project and getting started on my second major project.

Notes on the first week

My current project is in reality a series of daily tasks accumulating to form one large-scale, long-term project. I am currently working on a Special Use Permits master list, user guidelines, and standard operating procedures. By cross-referencing the master list document to the Laserfiche weblink7, an online portal for viewing Community Development archives at http://www.albemarle.org/weblink7, I am reconciling and making minor corrections in each to standardize formatting and data between the two. I am also trying to identify which files cannot be located and are permanently missing from County records.

As for my second major project, which involves the scanning and organizing Official Letters of Determination, progress has been slow but moving. An Official Letter of Determination can be a letter of compliance, parking, use, or parcel. It is a formal letter written by the Zoning Administrator that is essentially the final word that settles a dispute or clears up confusion or concern regarding land divisions. Although it may be appealed, it represents the exact position of local government in settling land use issues. My role is to physically organize the hard copy files that contain the letters as well as digitally organize previous intern work and make the database more efficient, accurate, easily searchable, and usable in general. I was in a meeting with John Shepherd, Manager of Zoning Administration, to assess which areas of the current determinations database needed improvement and which strengths I could build upon.

I look forward to finishing up my Special Use Permits/Laserfiche combined projects and delving more deeping into the Letters of Determination work. At this point, it seems that work beyond preliminary assessments may have to wait until I come back in the Fall 2009 semester. Both projects, although labeled as the Special Use Permits Project and Letters of Determinations Project, respectively, will probably take one to two years each to complete including both academic year part-time work and summer full-time work. I am in the conclusion and verification phases of my special permits work, and hope to make a small but important dent into the determinations work by the end of the summer.


The Zoning and Current Development Division will soon be split into separate divisions. Mostly I work with Zoning staff, but my office is among the Current Development staff. It will be interesting to see if the formal separation will have any informal impacts on my work. For now, I don’t believe it will. I’m now midway through my internship, having started during finals week since I will be visiting family in Taiwan for part of the summer. That first week was incredibly stressful since I was juggling academics and work at the same time, but now my daily workload is settling down and becoming more manageable.

It appears that my Letters of Determination project will be temporarily on hold since I am running into some trouble with tying up the loose ends to my Special Use Permits project. Each day, I have been making lists, checking my lists against other lists, and pulling hard copy records for verification. My standard operating procedures and user guidelines are both starting to get lengthy. I have make sure to maintain the delicate balance between providing enough information to staff to resolve conflicts of information from multiple data sources and not writing too much detail. This process has been rather difficult, but I have been making steady progress. I considered myself finished with the major elements of my Special Use Permits project about a month ago, but making sure that my final product will be an effective and reliable research tool for staff is the key to truly tying up those loose ends.

I hope that I will be able to have a project deliverable that is so dependable that staff will never have to go downstairs to the basement to retrieve the aging files ranging from 1969 to present again. In total, there are 3120 Special Use Permits from those years! In order to complete my Letters of Determination project to the same level of accuracy, accounting for all files, I will have to work with a similar number of files within a similar time frame. By the end of my summer internship, my goal is to reach a clear and sensible stopping/pausing point in each project.

Final Reflections

The opportunity to work directly in the field of my major has been truly rewarding. It has been wonderful to be able to learn about, and then implement the very concepts taught by my professors in the classroom. Through my internship in Community Development, I have gained both a thorough understanding and a working knowledge of the principles and theories that I previously had only read about. For example, professors have continuously noted that a major function of local government is to encourage public participation as it delivers its services. Even though I understood the basic reasons why active public participation in the civic process is critical, I didn't grasp just how valuable spending that extra amount of time to notify and include adjoining neighbors and other relevant parties in discussions of new projects really was.

By being able to shadow the planners, engineers, and other community development staff, I have been able to see that citizens know exactly when and to what extent they are genuinely involved in anticipated changes in their local community. I have seen that actively seeking the input of citizens and then taking what they have to say seriously, has tremendous ramifications in whether community responses to projects and plans are overwhelmingly positive or negative. I have also benefited very much from the mentorship and kindness of Community Development staff, in ways that I have acknowledged and thanked them for, as well as in subtle ways that they would probably never imagine that I remember.

In between projects, I have been reading a book entitled, Planners on Planning to supplement my work with practical advice from professional planners. This book was put in the "FREE to a good home" bin in the break room, and I decided to pick it up and give it a "good home." Combined with the stories shared by the professionals who authored the book, I have received plenty of advice and help from my supervisor and other staff. I am incredibly grateful for their generosity and caring.

Finally, I have made a small dent into the Letters of Determinations project. There are several locations in which the thousands of letters of determinations can be found. In our office, the most recent are housed in the CityView software, others are kept in two cabinets reserved for determinations, and still others are intermixed with other file types in the master reading files. It will be a challenge to peruse each file and give each file a permanent and organized home. The end objective will be to categorize and input the data from the letters of determination into an Access Database that can be searchable by tax map and parcel number, land use, and even by Zoning Ordinance section number. I have much to look forward to as I proceed to my Fall 2009 internship at the Albemarle County Department of Community Development.