Cornelius development director Ryan Wells to leave city
One of the most influential city officials in Cornelius for the last five years is taking a new position elsewhere.
Ryan Wells, Cornelius' community development director, announced last week he is taking a position in mid-March as the planning and development director in Fate, Texas, a similarly sized city to Cornelius outside Dallas.
During his time in Cornelius, Wells has helped facilitate some of the most consequential developments in the history of the rapidly evolving city, which, sitting between Hillsboro and Forest Grove, has been often overlooked, he said.
He oversaw the creation of the Cornelius Town Center Plan and Urban Renewal Plan, guided the highest pace of housing development the city has ever seen and sought to make the city welcoming to all people and businesses.
Weeks before his last day, Wells said Cornelius and its residents have "left an indelible mark on my heart and my memory," adding that he has both personal and professional reasons to leave.
"I've been so impressed with the people in Cornelius," Wells said. "The perseverance and innovation and passion of the people in this community to do what's right, to do what's right by each other, and, especially with the pandemic, to get through this as a community has been really remarkable."
Rob Drake, Cornelius city manager, said Wells "is a very quick learner, works exceedingly smart and hard, and has shown great care in working with the business community."
A recent stop in town Wells said he had to make before leaving — Five Stars Family Burger — shows his ability to create relationships with local business owners.
"David is one of my favorites," Wells said of Five Stars owner David Yim. "The number of people who drove by and honked and waved was so cool."
Wells said he worked with Yim for years trying to find a brick-and-mortar location for the next step of the business, which began as a food truck. Although Yim found the right building in Cornelius, the pandemic postponed Yim's plan to fully transition.
Yim told Wells Five Stars' will move into the brick-and-mortar location eventually, once the pandemic allows, Wells said.
Wells said he has an affinity for small, up-and-coming towns such as Cornelius and Fate.
He said Cornelius' recent accomplishments make it well-positioned to continue improving the lives of its residents and developing into more than simply a bedroom community, in which people working outside the city take advantage of the lower property costs compared to nearby cities.
"We're going to see more job growth. We're going to see an appropriate spectrum of housing options, so we don't price out folks who are in the lower-income categories," Wells said.
He added he expects the downtown core to develop as an economic and cultural celebration of Cornelius' people, half of whom identify as Hispanic or Latino. That is the goal of the Town Center Plan he leaves behind, he remarked.
Cornelius' staff have worked hard to create partnerships with nonprofits such as Adelante Mujeres, which opened a new farmers market in the city last year, and Centro Cultural de Washington County to help ensure city plans involve all residents, Wells said.
It's exciting to see the commitment of Cornelius' newly elected officials to expand on those partnerships and new ones, he said.
Wells said while he believes Cornelius' government manages to do a lot with little revenue, the city's big challenge will continue to be working with a small tax base.
He said the impact of the city not having a lot of extra cash on hand can be seen during crises such as the pandemic.
Cornelius was able to create a couple of small business relief programs in 2020, but the programs were nowhere near the amount of money nearby cities such as Hillsboro were able to make available to businesses.
Wells said he was grateful to work in the community with exceptional city staff and residents.
"Even and especially the folks who came to me and challenged me," Wells said. "The people who had the hard questions, the people that made me have to really think critically about what we were doing."
Cornelius has already begun looking for Wells' replacement, Drake said.
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