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Outgoing planning director foresees growth in East Winston

Outgoing planning director foresees growth in East Winston
July 11
04:00 2018

Retiring City/County Planning Director Paul Norby has seen a lot of local growth in the last 19 years and expects to see more in the future.

“I really see more companies around the country looking at us as they see Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham kind of filling up, so I think our growth rate will pick up,” said Norby, who will be retiring at the end of the month.

Norby assumed his current position in 1999 and is the longest serving planning director in the department’s 80-year history. He’s over both building construction inspections and planning department, which oversees plans to guide growth and zoning changes that help implement it.

When Norby started, Downtown Winston-Salem was busy during business hours, but with little activity after that. Now downtown has transformed into the fastest growing residential area in the county, with a variety of restaurants and stores that Norby expects to continue growing.

He also expects that growth to spread to East Winston in coming years, guided by the upcoming East End Master Plan, which is sponsored by the S.G. Atkins CDC and is being done by Ayers Saint Gross, the same firm that did the Innovation Quarter master plan. 

“That, to me, is a huge opportunity to take the development energy of downtown, particularly the Innovation Quarter, and bridge across U.S. 52, but do it in a way where you have affordable housing opportunities and, through some of the tools that you use, you can lessen or eliminate the possibility of gentrification,” said Norby.

The area covered by the plan is north of Business 40, west and south of Martin Luther King Drive and east of 52. He said it is an opportunity for a mixed use, mixed income community with affordable replacement housing that won’t displace current residents and new housing that’ll appeal to those working at the Innovation Quarter.

Norby said he’s proud of the growth in downtown, the area plan process, the increase in historic landmarks and markers in the county, new sign regulations that’ll make thruways more attractive and the Legacy 2030 Plan, which was recognized as the best comprehensive plan of 2014 by the American Planning Association.  But he’s also quick to point out it was the handwork of others that made those things happen.

“I can’t really take credit for things. There’s very little I can do all by myself,” he said.

“I’ve got a wonderfully talented, excellent, dedicated staff both in inspections and in planning.”

While his department can make plans, he credits developers, local organizations, elected officials who vote for capital improvements and voters who approve bond projects for turning them into a reality.

Norby’s interest in planning dates back to his childhood when he’d make cities out of blocks. It wasn’t until he attended college that he discovered he can make a career of city planning. He earned a degree in geography from Valparaiso University in Indiana and a master’s in planning from Southern Illinois University. He started his planning career in 1974 in Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia. He later worked in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and served 19 years as planning director in Durham. He left Durham to become Forsyth’s planning manager in 1999 because he said he was looking for a new challenge.

The City/County Planning and Development Services Department serves Winston-Salem, unincorporated areas of the county and the municipalities of Bethania, Tobaccoville and Rural Hall as well as acting as staff for Walkertown’s planning board. Zoning, zoning ordinance changes and area plans are approved by the City-County Planning Board and are then approved by either City Council or the county commissioners. Norby attends meetings of all three government bodies and regularly does the presentations on zoning issues that they vote on.

County Commissioner Chairman Dave Plyler said he was always impressed with both Norby’s knowledge and temperament.

“With Paul, you have a guy who understands the zoning/planning issues. He also does his homework,” said Plyler. “He doesn’t get excited easily, he’s very measured,”

Mayor Allen Joines said the planning director sets the tone on how restrictive or open a city is to development. He felt Norby struck the right balance of being friendly to developers while protecting neighborhoods and the local environment.

“He brings a wonderful level of professionalism, combined with pragmatism, to the job and that has let us get a lot of great projects done in the community,” said Joines.

The Planning Board is continuing its search for a replacement for Norby, who plans to travel and spend time with his grandkids in retirement.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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