With a month under his belt, Zach Lunden is breaking new ground for the city of Umatilla.

As the first city planner for the city, Lunden is hard at work learning about the basics of Umatilla — what planning problems exist and setting guidelines for how to solve those problems.

“I’m not trying to take on everything at once,” he said. “There’s a lot of issues, and they’ll all need to be solved. There’s no shortage of work.”

Hired by former Umatilla City Manager J.R. Cook, Lunden began working at City Hall in early October, although current City Manager Bob Ward served his first day in the office Oct. 25.

“It’s been a challenge,” Lunden said. “There’s a lot of things that need to be looked at because the city’s never had a full-time planner. Right now I’m researching, seeing what some of the issues are and prioritizing.”

For his first project, Lunden has taken on updating the city’s mapping system. Umatilla now uses a collection of paper maps. Lunden is working with the county to develop updated digital GIS (Geographic Information System) maps, which are more accurate.

“No one paid much attention to it because no one has focused on it,” he said. “We’ve been using some maps the county has given us that are outdated for what our city limits are, where our zones are.”

The city planner is working with county officials to develop GIS maps for the city so officials have clear guidelines of zones and property owners before developing a comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan, a document that outlines a city’s goals and vision, is supposed to guide city decisions; however, the city of Umatilla’s plan was last updated in 1977.

“The old comprehensive plan doesn’t even recognize (Interstate) 82. It wasn’t there yet,” Lunden said. “The population has probably doubled since that was written.”

Lunden and Ward have set drafting a new comprehensive plan as a primary goal for Umatilla City Hall because economic development and planning can be based around it.

Although the Umatilla job marks Lunden’s first full-time planning position, he earned a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from Eastern Washington University in 2009 and has spent two years completing internships, most recently at the Tri-Cities based Benton-Franklin Council of Governments, where he learned of the Umatilla opening.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that could be done here and a lot of people who are passionate about Umatilla. I’m looking forward to working with them to make Umatilla better.”

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