Charleston Planning Director Tim Keane leaving for Atlanta

Tim Keane

Tim Keane, the city’s Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, will leave his post next month to take a similar job in Atlanta.

Mayor Joe Riley announced the news Thursday, noting Keane will leave the city June 26 to become Atlanta’s Commissioner of Planning and Community Development, where he will work under Mayor Kasim Reed.

“I wouldn’t leave Charleston for just anything,” Keane said. “This is a big job in a big city, and it’s a real opportunity because Atlanta is growing so fast. And it has the resources so it can compete among the biggest cities, and that interests me.”

Keane, 51, and his department have been at the forefront of several of the city’s hottest issues recently, from controversial redevelopment plans for the Sergeant Jasper site to a proposed moratorium on new bars and restaurants that serve alcohol past midnight to restructuring the city’s Board of Architectural Review.

He also participated in a recent mobility study that urged the city of Charleston to look into restoring street cars, create a new parking complex for visitors in the northern part of downtown, and do more to promote walking and biking.

In Atlanta, Keane will oversee the department that not only handles that city’s planning, including transportation planning, but also its housing programs and building permits.

Keane is the first of Riley’s department heads to leave this year, as the city’s elections loom.

In November, Charleston voters will choose a new mayor to succeed Riley, who is finishing his 40th year in office. Whoever wins will have leeway to retain or replace the city’s top staff, including department heads and other top advisors.

Riley said in a statement Thursday that he was happy for Keane and that deputy planning director Yvonne Fortenberry will serve as director until his replacement is hired. The city has begun a national search for his replacement with help from the American Planning Association.

As the city continues to experience a wave of prosperity, growth and development, planning issues are expected to remain at the top of the agenda.

The city’s planning department has been involved in proposals trying to rejuvenate the commercial district surrounding Citadel Mall and to map out a master plan for the Cainhoy Plantation property in Berkeley County, a vast undeveloped tract within Charleston’s urban growth boundary. And once litigation is settled over cruise ships, the department will be expected to play a key role in guiding the redevelopment of the 60-acre Union Pier terminal site.

“No matter who is in my position, the city will be facing the same issues,” Keane said. “They will still be there when I’m gone.”

While Keane’s recommendations haven’t always been received warmly by City Council or other zoning boards, Keane said he is not leaving with any sense of frustration.

“It’s hard for me to leave not only Charleston because of the place, but it is also hard because of all these issues that are the forefront right now,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t always agree, and that’s fine. That will never be the case. I’m sure I’ll have a new set of issues but the same dynamics in Atlanta.”

Keane began working for the city in 1999 before leaving about six years later to take a job in the private sector, where he worked with neo-traditional developments, such as Mixon in North Charleston.

He later returned to the city and was made head of a department that handles not only planning and preservation but also quality of life initiatives, such as the city’s livability division.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.