Charles C. Graves III, Baltimore's planning director, is leaving his $117,000 post after nine years to become Atlanta's commissioner of planning and neighborhood development, he announced yesterday.
Graves told his 50-member staff the news Monday. Yesterday he expressed mixed emotions about moving from a city of 651,154 defined by its scores of neighborhoods.
"Baltimore's a great city, but this is a unique opportunity because I'll be overseeing planning, community development and economic development," Graves said. "I told my staff, this was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make."
Graves, 48, known for his soft-spoken, analytical style, will continue on the job until Nov. 1. A search for his successor will be launched, city officials said yesterday.
During his watch, the planning department crafted the city's first comprehensive plan in 30 years and embarked on a new zoning code -- a project left unfinished for his successor. A new initiative, the strategic neighborhood action plan, is getting under way with an open meeting with community leaders at 6 tonight in the Benton building at 417 E. Fayette St.
Comparing Atlanta to Baltimore, Graves said, "The traffic is much worse [there], and affordable housing is becoming an issue. Prices are escalating."
By Census 2000 numbers, Baltimore is the nation's 17th-largest city, while Atlanta comes in as the 40th-largest. However, Graves noted a perception problem.
"People in Baltimore think Atlanta's much bigger," he said. "People in Atlanta think so, too."
He will oversee 350 city employees, he said, and serve as a member of Democratic Mayor Shirley Franklin's cabinet. He was recruited by the firm Egon Zehnder International, he said.
Graves was appointed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and came to Baltimore from a similar position in Appleton, Wis.
In the early 1990s, he said, "The Inner Harbor was on automatic and so neighborhoods were my focus."
Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that he interviewed Graves about serving in his administration when he was elected nearly three years ago.
"Everything was up for grabs and nothing was assumed," O'Malley said. "His leadership will be sorely missed, and I'm happy for him. He did a great job for me."
He praised Graves for organizing the city's census count and for appealing the number assigned to Baltimore, which officially lost 85,000 residents between 1990 and 2000.
Graves said yesterday that an informal appeal could result in 10,000 being added to the census total.