Retiring community developer honored for her service

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, May 1, 2024

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Southampton County Community Development Director and Planner Beth Lewis is trading in her work shoes for sneakers and flip flops.

Lewis, who was hired by the county on July 1, 2009, as a senior planner, went on to serve as community development director from 2010 to 2024. She officially retired from the role effective Wednesday, May 1.

“I am 66-and-a-half years old, and I’m ready to retire,” she said in a March 29 interview. 

She noted that this plan has been developing as part of an ongoing discussion between her and her husband.

“He’s been retired for a number of years, and we’ve talked about it for a while, so it’s time,” she said.

She briefly summarized the responsibilities that have belonged to her as the community development director.

“It’s helping the Board of Supervisors, who are elected by the citizens of Southampton County, and the Planning Commission, who was appointed by the Board of Supervisors, forward what the community wants to develop as,” she said. “The county has a comprehensive plan, which is updated regularly, and a zoning ordinance, and it’s my job to facilitate the implementation of those documents.”

Both the Southampton County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted resolutions of appreciation for Lewis at their regular April meetings and presented them to her.

At the April 11 Planning Commission meeting, Board of Supervisors Chairman Dr. Alan W. Edwards, who represents the board on the commission, addressed the commission’s chairman, Michael G. Drake.

“Mr. Chairman, it gives me great pleasure to make a motion that the Planning Commission present this resolution to Ms. Lewis tonight, and I’m going to let you have that to read,” Edwards said.

Drake read the following resolution:

“Whereas, Elizabeth Lewis has served as a valuable director of the Southampton County Community Development and Planning from July 1, 2009, through April 30, 2024; and

“Whereas, Elizabeth Lewis has unselfishly given of her time and talents to effectively promote the health, safety, prosperity and orderly development of Southampton County, including overseeing the administration and enforcement of state building codes; reviewing plans; issuing permits and enforcing county zoning ordinances for the citizens of Southampton County; and

“Whereas, her broad knowledge of Southampton County and concern for its citizens contributed immensely to the Planning Commission’s efforts in effectively balancing growth and development.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Southampton County Planning Commission that Elizabeth Lewis is recognized and commended for 14 years and nine months of devoted service to the people of Southampton County as director of community development and planning; and

“Be it further resolved that a copy of this resolution be spread upon the minutes of this board on the 11th day of April, 2024, serving to record and forever preserve its gratitude and appreciation; and

“Be it further resolved that a framed copy of this resolution be presented to Elizabeth Lewis as a visual token of the high esteem in which she is held by the Planning Commission and the people of Southampton County, Virginia.”

“This is from all the Planning Commission,” Drake said as he presented Lewis with the framed copy of the resolution. “Congratulations!”

Applause from the commission followed.

“Thank you all very much,” she said.

“We wish you the very best in your retirement,” Drake said. “You will certainly be missed.”

Just prior to the reading of the resolution, Jerusalem District Commissioner and Commission Vice Chairman John T. “Jack” Randall began a series of tributes to Lewis.

“I think the entire Planning Commission wants to thank you for your dedication, your professionalism and just lending a helping hand when we had some question that probably seemed ridiculous to you, because sometimes you had to beat us over the head for us to get the point, and I personally appreciate that,” he said.

Referencing Capron District Commissioner William “Bill” Day, Randall said, “I know Mr. Day wanted me to express that he was very upset he couldn’t be here today to see you off because he really appreciated sitting beside you and getting all that knowledge from you.” 

Randall said he and Day concluded she was way too young to be retiring, prompting laughter from Lewis.

“So we’re hopeful that you enjoy your retirement,”  Randall continued, “but I’m sure that with your talent, it will not be wasted doing something in this arena that you are so well equipped for. So I just wanted to say that — that all of us appreciated everything you’ve done.

“Thank you very much,” Lewis said. “I have learned a lot in my 15 years in Southampton County, and I hope I’ve helped move the county a little bit forward. I’ve enjoyed working with all of you.”

Franklin District Commissioner Bradford W. “Brad” Turner said, “We’re going to miss you. Thank you for everything.”

Referencing Lewis’ spot on the dais, Drake said, “We will miss you on that end seat, Ms. Lewis. You have done a lot of special work for all of us. And I must say any time I’ve called you or your office for anything pertaining to the Planning Commission, you’ve always worked hastily and always delivered in a very timely fashion, and we appreciate it very, very much.”

As Lewis reflected on the last 14 years of county history, she mentioned the Camp Parkway Commerce Center and also the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Y’all did have some tough things, and I’m sure you’ll have some going forward too,” she said.

Randall said, “I’m going to still call you,” drawing laughter from commissioner members.

“OK, that’s fine,” Lewis said.

Edwards presented Lewis with the Board of Supervisors’ matching resolution of appreciation at the board’s April 23 meeting.

“I’d like to say that Ms. Lewis is going to be very difficult to replace,” Edwards said. “She always furnished the Planning Commission with all the information they needed. If we asked for something, she got it. Although I noticed at times her philosophy didn’t agree with the Planning Commission, she never tried to force her philosophy on the decisions of the Planning Commission, and we really appreciate that.”

Edwards thanked her, and then Northwest District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman William Hart Gillette said, “I’d like to add a ‘thank you.’ As was pointed out in one of our previous meetings coming up with the comprehensive plan, the work that Ms. Lewis did saved a big chunk in the budget as opposed to hiring consultants. She took that upon herself, did the work, helped the committee along, and it saved a lot of money for the county, and I just wanted everybody in here to recognize that, and thank you again, Ms. Lewis.”

Lewis shared in a March 29 interview what she enjoyed most about being the community development director and planner.

“I’ve really liked the people that I’ve worked with, both in the county and for the seven years we were in the city of Franklin,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of the people I work with and the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.”

From 2013 through most of the summer of 2020, the county’s community development department was a shared services department with the city of Franklin.

“For seven years we sat in city hall in Franklin, but we served both the city and the county,” she said.

Some of the biggest developments that occurred during her 14 years as community development director took place in the county.

She reflected on the accomplishments she is most proud of during her tenure.

“I helped the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors craft a utility-scale solar ordinance that is responsive to the citizens in Southampton County and that permits the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to consider such projects while protecting valuable farm and forest lands,” she said. “I think that that is probably the thing that my tenure may be most associated with.

“When that first solar project came to Southampton County, Southampton Solar, in 2017, the county had very few guidelines, and now the county has an ordinance that determines where such projects shall be located and how they impact with the community around them, and I think that’s probably what will be most remembered,” she said.

She added, “Also the county started the Voluntary (Agricultural and Forestal) District Program in Southampton County, which has been in Virginia since the ’70s but has only been in Southampton County since about 2016 or 2017, and now there are over 100,000 acres of farm and forest land in Southampton County that are protected from development.”

When asked if she has any big plans for what she will do with her retirement, Lewis focused her answer on the tone that she aims to set for this new chapter of her life.

“My plan is to not wear real shoes,” she said. “I’m just going to live in sneakers and flip flops — that’s my plan.”