Following a recent decision by the Columbus County commissioners to split the operations of the Economic Development and Planning departments into two separate offices, newly-appointed County Planner Samantha Alsup is preparing to move sometime in the next two weeks from her current office in the county Administration Building on Washington Street to the Miller Building on Jefferson Street.
Commissioners decided to return to separate departments after implementation of the county’s zoning ordinance in 2014 made it apparent over time that planning operations had become much more technical and time-consuming.
Economic Developer Gary Lanier had agreed to take on the additional role of planning director several years ago, but the role has become more complex.
Also making sense to them was the appointment of Lanier’s administrative assistant, Alsup, as the new planning director. While most county and city planners in North Carolina hold degrees in planning, Alsup’s background as an attorney will aid her in implementing complex zoning regulations in the county.
“Planning is a very technical field. I am confident that, with her legal background, Samantha Alsup will do a great job as planning director,” said County Manager Mike Stephens.
Lanier, who will now focus exclusively on economic development, was equally supportive of the change. “Samantha has played a key role in handling a multitude of tasks related to the planning department since she joined the county staff almost four years ago,” Lanier said. “As a licensed attorney, she has the ability to interpret and apply planning and zoning statutes in support of our efforts to make Columbus County an even better place to live and work. Her experience and expertise have been, and will continue to be, invaluable.”
Lanier said Alsup’s contributions included helping county residents deal with FEMA following Hurricane Matthew, handing special use permit applications and complaints from citizens about abandoned structures and abandoned vehicles.
“She’s done all of this while supporting our economic development efforts and while getting the training needed from the School of Government to become a certified zoning officer,” Lanier said. “She is an outstanding asset to Columbus County in her new position and I wish her all the best as she takes on her new role as county planner.”
A native of Columbus County, Alsup grew up in Tabor City, the daughter of Vivian Orrell and the late Johnny B. Edwards. She and her husband, Keith, a banker, live at Lake Waccamaw with their two children.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in political science from UNC Chapel Hill, Alsup graduated from the Campbell University School of Law in 1991. She was employed by the local district attorney’s office for 18 years before opening a private legal practice, which she continued for three years before joining Lanier in the economic development/planning office.
She says she looks forward to working with the county planning board and county commissioners to create and fine-tune regulations for land uses within the county. She noted about 14 land uses are regulated by the county’s ordinance. Some have regulations required to obtain a special use permit, while others don’t.
“For example, when the zoning ordinance was passed we didn’t have any regulations for solar farms, but now we have such regulations,” she said. “Right now we don’t have anything in place for electronic gaming regulations and we need to do that. Electronic gaming is in legal limbo right now, but if the appellate courts eventually say such operations are legal, we have to be ready with regulations on that issue.”
Zoning issues and changes can be technical and cumbersome, with public hearings required before the planning board and, at times before the quasi-judicial board of adjustments, as well as before the county commissioners. With each proceeding, proper legal advertising has to be placed, adjoining property owners have to be notified and input taken from the public. In many instances, education of citizens who might be affected by zoning decisions also is part of the job.
Alsup believes that with her legal background, combined with specialized training in flood plain management (for which she’s also the county director), zoning, planning regulation and zoning certification from the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill, she is qualified for the challenges that lie ahead as the planning department enters its new phase.
Exactly when her office will move from the county Administration Building on Washington Street to the former offices of the Guardian Ad Litem program in the Miller Building on Jefferson Street is still undetermined, but it is expected to take place within the next two weeks.