Christa McGaha, Planner II

Christa McGaha, Planner II
Posted on 09/09/2022

Christa McGaha, planner II with the City of Lenexa Community Development Department, grew up in a small town an hour northwest of Boston where she was close to the Atlantic Ocean, mountains, and scenic outdoor trails. She’s now 1,400 miles from her family but Kansas City has quickly become home.

“Moving here by myself was definitely a huge change,” she said. “I always had roommates and I've never gone somewhere not knowing anyone. I’m proud of myself for doing it and for making a home here.”

When people hear the job title “planner,” they often think of event planning for small or large-scale personal or corporate events. City planners review new buildings and development happening within city limits. That means when a new chain restaurant or a family-owned business comes to Lenexa, the city planners are the first to review the application.

Christa smiling in a conference room leading a group of employees. “We review the plans that come through for planning commission and work with the developers, explain our city codes, get the designs up to Lenexa standard and then we give recommendations to the planning commission and city council,” Christa said.

As one of three planners working for the City of Lenexa, Christa manages a variety of assignments, activities and programs related to the development review process and long-range planning.

One of her favorite parts of the job is maintaining and updating database and geographic information files through mapping.

“I love mapping,” she said. “It’s very exciting to be able to use the skillset that I have to help with my job and to share that product with the public as a resource. It’s interesting that you can use them to tell a story.”

In 2021, Christa led the design process for the new digital development map that shows private and commercial development happening in Lenexa.

“It’s a very powerful tool for getting the point across, especially with using them as a tool to show the location of new development,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to create and maintain a product that is directly out there for the public to use and just get information.”

Christa moved to the Kansas City metro area in 2014 when she took a job working for a GPS technology company in Johnson County. She studied geography and computer mapping at Keene State College in New Hampshire, where she got a taste of planning through a class project.  

Christa hiking Mount Washington in New Hampshire.“My senior project was a walkability assessment, and we did mapping in conjunction with one of the regional planning commissions up there,” Christa said. “I always kind of knew that I wanted to use mapping, but I was interested in walkability and planning when I moved to Kansas City for work.”

When Christa reached the peak of her employment opportunity at the GPS company, she searched for more meaningful work.

“I could just be a cartographer forever or I could find a little more meaning to the mapping job,” Christa said. “I wanted to be somewhere that I could use it in a more impactful way.”

She began working for a rural county in Kansas before landing in Lenexa in 2019.

“In Lenexa, there’s a lot of commercial development happening,” she said. “Working for the City of Lenexa seemed almost like a blank slate for me in certain ways; it seemed like a great opportunity to actually work in a role that I could see the work that I’m doing to benefit the community around me.”

Since 2019, Christa has been promoted as a planner II and continues her career track to become a planner III.

“It’s cool to go by and actually see the building that you’ve been a part of, the approval process, and seeing it functioning and existing in our environment,” she said.

Christa with her adopted pit bull, Vivian. Outside of work, Christa enjoys hanging out with friends, running, walking her 65-pound, adopted pit bull Vivian, and doing hot yoga. She considers herself a “retired” marathon runner. While she’s not currently training for a race, she still enjoys lacing up and putting some miles in. From running in the mountains of western Maine to street running in Boston, Christa has completed six marathons. Christa lives in Kansas City with her dog and cat, Joanna. She recently completed her master’s degree in urban planning in 2021 while working full-time and received AICP certification with the American Institute of Certified Planners in April of 2022.

Published Sept. 9, 2022