Planning director hired for Bedford County

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By John Barnhart

A new year brought a new job for Tim Wilson. Wilson has been hired as Bedford County’s new director of community planning and development.

    Monday was his first day on the job, in an office that still has a barren, spartan appearance because he has not yet had the chance to bring in any personal items. The day involved learning how the computer system and the phone system works. Wilson notes that every local government handles these a little differently.
    He’s already met his staff. He made a trip in last month to spend a day here and get to know them.
    “They have been very friendly, very welcoming,” he said. “They seem to be a very capable staff. I look forward to working with them. That’s a tremendous help coming in.”
    Wilson is a native of Newport News and graduated from  Christopher  Newport  College  with a degree  in economics. He actually started his government work as an economic development planner but became so involved in local land use and zoning that he moved over into community development.
    “I was the first planning director in Brunswick County,” he said.
    This meant that he was involved in developing. He established the planning department and helped draft that county’s first zoning ordinance.
    Wilson is a firm believer in routinely revisiting a zoning ordinance to correct issues that aren’t working well. As director of community development in Nags Head, N.C., the job he held for a little more than eight years before coming here, he had a six-man committee that met with him periodically to make suggestions.
    A zoning ordinance can also run up against issues that nobody thought of when it was developed. This happened in Brunswick County when somebody wanted to set up a nudist camp. Along with generating jokes, the proposal also generated a massive outcry of public opposition. Wilson said that the planning commission reluctantly ended up recommending it for approval because the members felt they had no other legal choice. The zoning ordinance on campgrounds did not prohibit nudist camps and the proposed campground met the other criteria. The county’s board of supervisors ultimately voted against the project because it violated community standards and the property owner didn’t appeal that decision.
    Brunswick County and Middlesex County, where he also worked as director of planning, were rural counties. Nags Head is something different. Wilson said that it normally has a population of 3,000.
    “But in the summer time you’re looking at a town of 30,000 people,” he said.
    This gives him insight into the needs of a community that caters to tourists.
    That job also provided some unique experiences. He was on the job when Hurricane Isabelle paid the East Coast a visit several years ago.
    “One of the responses of my department was damage assessment,” he said.
    Wilson said that, at one point, it looked like a Category 5 hurricane was headed right for them. Isabelle ended up missing the locality, barely. Nevertheless, it was close enough that Nags Head suffered storm damage.
    “It was quite an experience with that hurricane,” he said.
    Wilson believes his past experience will help him on his new job as he works with the planning commission and the board of supervisors to revise Bedford County’s existing zoning ordinance.
    The position of director of planning and community development has remained vacant for more than a year, with the director’s duties temporarily divvied up among other county staff. George Nester, the previous director of planning, left in May 2009 to take a job as Halifax County’s county administrator. The search for a replacement was temporarily stopped; County Administrator Kathleen Guzi said this was done because the initial search did not turn up any suitable candidates. Guzi said it was important to get the right person for this position.
    The county currently has a hiring freeze in effect, but Guzi said that the position of director of planning and community development was never a part of that freeze.