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Whiteville planner no stranger to area

Whiteville’s new City Planner Robert Lewis is no stranger to the area.

Lewis, 34, lives at Lake Waccamaw with his wife Andrea. His in-laws live in Whiteville, and he is a native of Bladenboro. He is a graduate of East Carolina University with a master’s degree from Pembroke.

“I’m familiar with Whiteville, and have tried to keep informed as to what was happening there,” he said. “When Hiram (Marziano) left the city, I saw it as a good chance to do something I love there at home.”

Lewis will leave the town of Shallotte’s planning position and start work in the city July 10. He previously worked as the county planner for Bladen County, and was with the Elizabethtown planning office when that city undertook its downtown revitalization project. The program began with a detailed wish list created by members of the community, which was then prioritized and set into motion over the course of several years.

The result, Lewis said, was a regenerated downtown business district that benefitted from careful planning and guided development along the edges of the town as well as in the downtown areas.

“You look at a lot of small towns, and the downtowns are full of vacancies,” he said. “Elizabethtown is significant because today there are very few vacant storefronts, and the retail districts outside of downtown have grown as well.”

Lewis also worked on a similar project in Shallotte, and said he looks forward to the challenges of helping Whiteville grow. City Manager Darren Currie said Tuesday that he hopes to add some economic development duties to the planner’s position.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Lewis said. “Whiteville is a great city, and there is a lot of potential here. There will be a lot of challenges, and I know there will be some surprises, but it’s a great opportunity for me.”

While he said he enjoyed his time in Shallotte, Lewis said the long daily commute takes its toll. His wife also refused to leave the Lake, he laughed.

“This is home, and we want it to stay that way,” he said. “I’ve known Darren for a number of years, and the city has a great staff. I’m really excited.”