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East County resident takes over as Manatee Development Services director

Nicole Knapp has worked for Manatee County for the past eight years.

East County resident Nicole Knapp was appointed as the director of Development Services on Oct. 24 by the Board of County Commissioners.
East County resident Nicole Knapp was appointed as the director of Development Services on Oct. 24 by the Board of County Commissioners.
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East County's Nicole Knapp described her new role as director of Development Services for Manatee County as a “delicate dance” between balancing the business and policy decisions of the Commission with the information her staff supplies as to “why things are the way they are.” 

It's not always smooth sailing.

“You want the (commissioners) to know that you’re here for them, but you also want your team members to know that you’re here for them, as well,” she said.

While that might be a tough spot, Knapp enjoys the challenge of compromise and getting work done for the citizens.

Knapp was promoted to director at the Oct. 24 commission meeting after working eight years for the county in various leadership roles. She has a degree in municipal planning and development, along with 20 years of land development experience.

The director of Development Services is an important role in Manatee County because the department oversees all aspects of community development, including planning and zoning, land use, impact fees, affordable housing, code enhancement, long-range planning and economic development. 

This means that Knapp has her hands in everything from maintaining the Comprehensive Plan to keeping an eye on department budgets. She prepares the staff reports and recommendations for development projects and oversees the building codes and ordinances on the county and state level. 

“I’m not looking to change a lot. I’m looking to continue the foundation that was here and find ways to work smarter, not harder, and create efficiencies for all of the divisions,” Knapp said. “The better we do with that, the better response we can provide to our customers, whether that be a residential home, a commercial business or a developer community.”

One of her first requests as director was to have staff create a weekly report that provides metrics for how they’re performing on a daily basis. The reports will help improve efficiencies by honing in on trends and highlighting any weaknesses.

Prior to the appointment, she served as the interim director for four months and also held the titles of public hearing section manager, planning section manager for Emergency Management in Public Safety, comprehensive planning division manager and impact fee administrator. 

One of the highlights of her career with Manatee County came when working in Public Safety, a departure from her usual planning roles. She oversaw a five-year update to the strategic plan, which mitigates hazards countywide, including flooding, red tide and wildfires. It was a big job that required coordinating with other counties in the region, along with multiple agencies, departments and stakeholders.

“So many planners come out of school and they’re into current or long-range planning, master planning of communities, parks and things of that nature,” Knapp said. “Going over to Public Safety really opened my eyes to the vulnerabilities we have in our state and our community.” 

Now, every project and concern brings her a new opportunity to learn. The variety is what makes her get up every day to do it again. Knapp's motto around the office has become "When you love what you do, it's not work," and Knapp said a lot of that has to do with the people she works with, too. 

Knapp's appointment was greeted by overwhelming support from her fellow county employees, who filled the Patricia M. Glass Chambers and stood behind her during her appointment announcement. Her appointment was approved unanimously by the commissioners.

Deputy County Administrator Courtney De Pol said Knapp exceeded every expectation she set while serving as interim director. 

"I, personally, couldn't have done it without her," De Pol said. 

The 48-year-old East County resident moved to the area from Illinois, where she spent 17 years working for the Village of Bolingbrook, which was named as one of the “Top 50 Best Places to Live for Families” by Fortune magazine this year. 

“We vacationed here for 10 years. Every time we came down, our family, as a whole, felt this draw to stay,” Knapp said. 

She and her husband, Chuck, wanted a change and decided to start looking for employment along the gulf coast. Their two sons were in third and eighth grade at the time. Now, the youngest, Hudson, is a senior at Braden River High School and the oldest, Marshall, is about to graduate from Florida State University. 

After the couple secured employment in Manatee County, it was important for them to live where they would be working. 

“Manatee County has a great park system, great school system, a nice downtown, the Riverwalk area, and we’re close enough to the beaches, so it gave us that balance without having to commute very far,” Knapp said. “Our kids go to school right by our home. Their sports were here in town. It’s easier for me to be more passionate about what I do when I’m giving back to my own community.” 

The Knapps moved to the area without knowing anyone or having any family nearby, so they formed a surrogate family through bonding with neighbors and fellow parents. When Knapp isn’t working, she can usually be found at the high school with the marching band. She’s been the “uniform mom” for the Pirates as long as she’s worked for the county. 

“When my son graduates, it’s going to leave a big void,” she said. 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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