Clayton Welcomes New Planning Director

The Town of Clayton has announced the hiring of Samantha Wullenwaber as Planning Director.

Raised just west of Clayton in the Cleveland community of Johnston County, Wullenwaber joins Clayton’s staff after serving as the Planning & Inspections Director of Dunn for the past one and half years and as the Planning Director for five years prior to that.

She begins work in Clayton on Monday, Feb. 26.

“This is an incredible personal and professional opportunity for me to join a team in a town that’s seen exponential growth, and I’m excited to help Clayton continue doing great things,” said Wullenwaber. “I believe in being developer and business friendly, but we have to make sure growth is smart and controlled so that it will bring benefit to citizens, developers, businesses and the community as a whole.”

As the City of Dunn’s Planning Director, Wullenwaber helped attract more than $60 million of new business investment, served as the head of the Dunn Community Development Corporation, crafted numerous new ordinances for the city’s code, wrote the city’s tobacco-free personnel policy, established a business registration program, initiated and completed a citywide zoning map amendment, and created and managed the city’s employee wellness program – all while also serving as head of the Inspections and Code Enforcement staff. Wullenwaber takes most pride in her successful reorganization of Dunn’s Planning & Inspections departments, which reduced the number of complaints filed by residents, contractors and elected officials.

The competition to become Clayton’s next planning director was fierce, Town Manager Adam Lindsay said in his announcement to the Mayor and Town Council, and Wullenwaber rose to the top.

“We think you’ll agree that we’ve hired a very smart leader to oversee the operations of the Planning Department,” he said. “Samantha survived our intense, internally-driven assessment process and ultimately was selected over two other very qualified candidates. We’re excited for her to lead our Planning team and work hand-in-hand with our Engineering & Inspections, Public Works and new Economic & Community Development programs.”

In Clayton, Wullenwaber will manage a staff responsible for the development, planning, zoning code enforcement, nuisance and minimum housing code enforcement, and other related programs for the Town. She will provide guidance for the orderly long-range growth and current development of the Town, supervising staff in conducting studies, enforcement of zoning and related codes, planning, development review, design projects, and grants management and administration. She’ll represent the Town in intergovernmental activities, such as working with the NC Department of Transportation and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on infrastructure, transportation, green space planning and land use issues. And last, but certainly not least, she will oversee the long-range planning and land-use program for our growing town.

Ironically enough, Wullenwaber said she did not originally plan to become a planner.

“In high school, we were never really told about government or planning jobs. Job fairs were focused on other areas like the medical field,” said Wullenwaber, who graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Health Education and Promotion. “I saw myself doing health promotion or helping manage a corporate wellness program. But when I graduated in 2008, the economic recession hit, so I ended up starting work with the City of Dunn as a Planning Technician.”

Once she had a taste of city planning, Wullenwaber was quickly driven to immerse herself in her new field and pursue a career of public service in local government. She began by taking “every possible class” she could with the University of North Carolina’s School of Government, the largest university-based government training organization in the nation. She took so many classes at UNC over the years, Wullenwaber jokes, the university probably should probably have given her a diploma by now. Recognizing her continuing education and experience, Dunn named Wullenwaber as Planning Director after three years with the city. In 2015, she earned a Masters of Public Administration from UNC Pembroke. And by 2016, she was managing a staff of seven planning, code enforcement, building and fire inspection employees for the City of Dunn.

Wullenwaber, who will have her office inside Clayton’s historic Town Hall and cultural arts complex, The Clayton Center, is no stranger to massive downtown revitalization and renovation projects. Much like the project that transformed two abandoned school houses into The Clayton Center, Wullenwaber recently assisted with a $9 million low-income housing tax credit project in Dunn that rehabilitated an abandoned school into a senior living and multi-use facility.

She says she “loves writing grants,” and helped the City of Dunn complete some impressive projects by landing more than $900,000 of funding from NCDOT grants, a Community Transformation Grant, an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Grant, a Safe Routes to School grant and a Bicycle Helmet Initiative. We’re looking forward to seeing some of those grant dollars come to Clayton!

Wullenwaber also took part in the $2.9 million USDA Rural Development Loan project that helped revitalize Dunn’s downtown area, which included transforming the historic city center, burying power lines and telecommunication cables, renovating the aged water and sewer system, replacing pavement, and incorporating attractive brick and cement features.

Town leaders were impressed by Wullenwaber’s commitment to both the planning profession and her local community. Wullenwaber belongs to the Dunn Area Chamber of Commerce, serves on their Young Professionals Committee and was recently recognized as their Young Professional of the Month. She’s also an active member of the Benson Junior Woman’s Club and the Dunn-Erwin Rotary Club. She belongs to the Downtown Development Association, the NC Association of Zoning Officials and the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail Board. In June she will be honored as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” by the Think Smart Outreach Center, a non-profit that provides youth scholarships and recognizes dynamic professionals who’ve had major career success and extensive records of community service.

Clayton’s Planning Director position became vacant last November, when the Town tapped David DeYoung to direct the Town’s new Economic and Community Development department. DeYoung previously served for 7 years as planning director.

Wullenwaber and her husband, Brooks, have a 4-year-old son, Connor, and a 2-year-old daughter, Savannah, along with several fur babies. She’s excited to work closer to her parents, who still reside in the Cleveland area, and she looks forward to becoming part of the Clayton community.