Missoula County named one of its own to head its newly named planning department as it undergoes a reorganization to better meet the county's needs amid the region's growth.

Karen Hughes, who has served as assistant director of Community and Planning Services since 2013, has been appointed to the role of director of the newly minted Department of Planning, Development and Sustainability.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to move into this new role and work with communities, the commission and our amazing staff to tackle the changes facing Missoula County and our communities,” Hughes said.

In recent years, Hughes oversaw several key initiatives, including the start of the county’s climate action program, a new land use map and zoning code update, and a new county housing program and housing action plan.

She expects to continue much of that work in her new role.

“Right now, this means addressing housing needs, handling the surge of development applications, administering a brand-new zoning code that reflects community values and sustainably managing growth,” she said. “It also means seizing new federal opportunities and resources to make significant local progress to address climate issues.”

As the city did with its new Department of Community Planning, Development and Innovation, the county has blended other programs into a new Office of Lands and Communities.

It will be headed by Chet Crowser, who formerly headed the program now served by Hughes.

“Over the years, community planning has grown and adapted to the dynamic needs of Missoula County, and this reorganization will allow us to better delegate workflow and enhance efficiency and collaboration across the County, resulting in better service to the public and support for staff,” Crowser said.

The Office of Lands and Communities will cover issues on land use, development, housing, climate action and resource management.

It will house three new departments including Planning, Development and Sustainability. It also includes the Department of Lands, Culture and Recreation, and the Department of Ecology and Extension.

The latter two departments have yet to receive a director, though the county expects to name one soon. But Hughes is now set to head the Planning, Development and Sustainability.

“We’re also excited for (Hughes) to take on the role of planning director just as our communities are experiencing a new wave of growth and development,” Crowser said. “Her institutional knowledge, her passion for planning and her leadership over the years is unmatched, and we look forward to seeing the department thrive with her at the helm.”