Search

Featured customer: UrbanLens Planning, LLC

Updated: Sep 15


Mill Park. UrbanLens Planning LLC is currently providing assistance to the City of Portland Parks & Recreation for the permitting and development of Mill Park. Plan courtesy Mayer/Reed

We couldn't be happier to introduce UrbanLens Planning, LLC as one of UrbanForm's newest users. UrbanLens Planning is one of the most cherished kinds of users of UrbanForm--an experienced professional in the built environment with a long history working on all sides of zoning, land-use, and planning.


The Principal of UrbanLens Planning, Robin Scholetzky, has 20+ years of experience that ranges from working within municipalities on policy and zoning, to private-sector side development and building work. She teaches zoning for PSU's Masters of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) degree.


UrbanForm is extremely proud to have won the confidence of UrbanLens Planning, LLC and its Principal, Robin Scholetzky.


And the story of how that confidence was won is detailed below.


We recently had the chance to chat with Principal Robin Scholetzky, and the transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity, is below:



Quang

How did you find out about UrbanForm?


Robin

This is a funny story. On LinkedIn, you posted about an issue that you had found with one of the reports, and I kind of was like, ha-ha: that's why we have humans who work in planning. It was a little bit tongue in cheek. And then, of course, as you and I know, I started looking into UrbanForm as a product and how it could be used. And then I reached out and you and we started talking, and I was intrigued and kind of hooked. I have really enjoyed working with you and appreciate your enthusiasm for UrbanForm and all things good design.


Quang

I kind of cherish that story because there certainly was a lot of skepticism from you, about UrbanForm, to begin with. But then to have you come around to UrbanForm, to the point where you now work with us as well, has been something I've really cherished. I loved that it started the way it did and that we're working together the way that we are.


Robin

I have, too. It gets reinforced more every time we have a conversation about how you want to use UrbanForm. I was struck by your mission, and this is something that I have also tried to do with UrbanLens Planning, to make these regulations more user-friendly so that they are not these Byzantine rules that no one can seem to follow.


As a profession, urban planning is not just regulations, it’s about making good places for people. Zoning and zoning codes are one tool in which to do this. There’s plenty of valid research about why it’s not the ideal tool, but it’s what we have right now. Regardless, as a tool, it’s not supposed to be inaccessible. As a planner, I’ve written zoning codes as well as interpreted their requirements. I think that puts me in a unique spot when I say that there's just a lot of value in making it easier for people to be able to understand what is being required of them and how on a parcel they are interested in developing.


Quang

Yeah, the real value of the professionals who are working in the built environment, working within these regulations—the urban planners, the architects, the developers—their value is not just translating the regulations. It's working on top of those parameters, to work as partners in the built environment, with their clients, and the broader community, to create the best buildings and cities that we can. It's not just getting through the rules.


It's about trying to work with the rules to get the best result possible. So UrbanForm is a tool for the professionals who work within the environment. To make the rules accessible, broadly engaging, and facilitating. So that we can work together to solve problems in the built environment, to create great spaces and great environments. To put all the effort, goodwill, and training that we go through towards the built environment.


That has been a reality every time I talk to people, especially people with your level of experience, that solidifies my belief in the fact that UrbanForm is a tool that is necessary for us to get there. To be able to work together a little bit more efficiently and communicate more clearly.


Robin

Agreed.



UrbanLens Planning LLC has been providing land use permitting and planning assistance to Hacienda CDC since 2019. Image of Las Adelitas, courtesy: Salazar Architects


Quang

So to back up a bit, it would be great to hear you talk about yourself and how you started UrbanLens Planning.


Robin

Sure. So I started UrbanLens Planning in 2015. I am a professional urban planner. I have an AICP accreditation and LEED AP ND, which is the additional accreditation for Sustainable Neighborhoods. I've been a professional planner for over 20 years. UrbanLens Planning provides boutique land use planning and permitting services for clients, mostly in the Portland Metro region. But I'm familiar with and have done work throughout Oregon, Washington, California, and on the East Coast as well.


Quang

And before that, you worked for architecture firms, didn't you?


Robin

Before forming UrbanLens Planning. I worked for a variety of consulting organizations including architecture firms here in Portland. So, most of my time has been spent on the private side, but I have worked in the public sector as well for the City of Portland. And with UrbanLens, I’ve worked with a number of communities as a contract planner.


I also have an undergraduate degree in marketing and a master's degree in Community and Regional Planning from the University of Oregon. Prior to becoming a planner, I worked in public policy in New York State—as a state representative staffer and a lobbyist.


Quang

What do you think distinguishes UrbanLens Planning as a firm?


Robin

There are two things that I think distinguishes UrbanLens Planning as a firm: one, as a client, you will have me, a professional with 20-plus years of experience on your project. Second, it’s my experience from working on “both sides of the counter”: developing zoning codes and policy documents for jurisdictions as well as implementing those documents on behalf of clients through favorable land use applications. It’s this ability to see both sides of the coin that can be very helpful for facilitating land use applications.


Quang

What's the project that you're most proud of and why?


Robin

That's a good question. I think the work that I'm most proud of is working as an adjunct faculty for Portland State University. I like working with students. It gives me an opportunity to give back to the planning community. Development and constant refinement of the syllabus has required me to think very thoughtfully and strategically about the kinds of things that I think students should walk out of their university education with. That includes practical knowledge about how to write staff reports, how to read a zoning code, and how to see behind the policy into implementation.


The project (s) that I’m most proud of, development review-wise are the development review for Mirabella in South Waterfront and most recently, Plaza Los Amigos in Cornelius. I have also really enjoyed working for cities as a contract planner in Astoria and Tillamook.



UrbanLens Planning provided support to the land use efforts of REACH Community Development, Ankrom Moisan Architects and Bienestar for a Type III Planned Unit Development (PUD) Conditional Use, and Type III Site Design Review application in Cornelius, Oregon. (2021) Graphic courtesy Ankrom Moisan Architects


Quang

That's a great answer. And kind of related to that, how do you want to see Portland develop? And is there a dream project that you would have with the city?


Robin

That's such a juicy question. I was asked by a Willamette Week reporter once about my vision for Lloyd Center. There are some key pivotal sites in Portland right now that I feel have immense possibilities, Lloyd Center being one of them. I responded that what they needed to do was ask the neighbors what they want to have at that site instead of asking professionals what they want to see.


And I think that gets me back to what planners I think should be doing, for the most part, is asking the community what they want to see rather than imposing upon others.


Quang

Okay, so how does UrbanForm help you in terms of your personal and professional goals?


Robin

I see a lot of value in UrbanForm to be able to first, complete a first pass answering the right questions early and to enable those I work with to head in the right direction. So, using UrbanForm allows me to do what I do best, which is answering the more difficult questions, like, “Now that we know what this report says, what is the resulting strategy for your project? And how can you use this information to better inform your design?”


Secondly, the value that I see in UrbanForm is its ability to enable someone to access a lot of zoning data succinctly and in a usable format.


UrbanForm is a time saving application that enables me to do my work as an urban planner more efficiently.


Quang

It's like a launching pad for you to kind of get on the same page with your stakeholders and start to talk about kind of the higher-level decision-making and problem-solving that needs to happen.


Robin

Right.


Quang

How much time do you typically spend looking at the zoning code for a project?


Robin

It depends on if the project is a site analysis or development of a land use application—so anywhere from four to 40 hours. And applying UrbanForm focuses my time on the challenging questions and strategies. It cuts down on my review time for at least the first review by a third, if not more.


Quang

What does the future hold for you and UrbanLens Planning?



UrbanLens Planning provided land use assistance for REACH Community Development in preparing a site for redevelopment with a mixed use/affordable housing development, and also included consulting with Bora Architecture on the associated master plan land use efforts. (2021) (Rendering courtesy Bora Architecture)


Robin

Being in business for yourself creates opportunities for reflection, so it’s a great question: I hope to teach more: I am very interested in education--I do a lot of continuing education with realtors and architects, and with other planners as the Ethics Coordinator for the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association. So, I enjoy thinking about how we explain planner-y things. And I think that there's so much good information out there about zoning and development and making progress as an industry. The trick is how to disseminate that information among allied professionals in a thoughtful manner so that everyone's not out there on their own recreating the wheel and we, as allied professionals are all learning from one another.


So, I see a lot of crossover between that educational component and UrbanLens Planning and UrbanForm. Both companies are about providing information in a thoughtful manner. Second, I value my client base and repeat clients and I think that says a lot about my work, so in the future, I will continue to keep working my hardest to keep everyone happy.


Quang

I have immense respect for anybody who goes on their own because I know the amount of effort and the work that's involved. And so, yeah, I'm excited to see where it goes with you too. I will say that the more I see in the built environment, the more that I see a need for the kind of expertise, knowledge, and value that you provide.


So thank you, Robin, for your time.


Robin

Thank you!


0 comments

Recent Posts

See All