Story By Rebecca Pierre
Photography By Chris Campbell
What could lure a tried-and-true mountain boy to the coast?Ask Justin Whiteside, who was raised in the foothills of theAppalachian Mountains — specifically in Rutherford County, North Carolina.The county is known for Chimney Rock, a natural rock formation that drawsthousands of visitors each year to the little town of less than 200 residents. It isthe home of Lake Lure, a popular recreation spot that was made famous by thefilming of the movie “Dirty Dancing” there in 1987.
“Where I lived was a textile community,” says Whiteside. “Eventually, when the mills went out of business, there were not many jobs in the area. Even now Rutherford County is consistently number one or two in counties with the highest unemployment rates in the state. After finishing high school, I decided to attend Appalachian State University in Boone and graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration. After graduation, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do but I started to look around at what was available. I saw an ad for a position with the town of Ocean Isle Beach that interested me. My grandparents have a house in Ocean Isle and I knew that if I worked there I would have a place to live so I applied for the position and I was hired.”
It was seven years ago that Whiteside, at age 22, was hired by the Town of Ocean Isle Beach. For four years he worked in code enforcement and zoning administration. Four years ago he was promoted to his current position of Town Planner.
In his job, Whiteside has to ensure that the growth of Ocean Isle Beach is regulated for the good of all residents and the town as a whole. He is responsible for code enforcement and zoning regulation as well as the enforcement of CAMA, Coastal Area Management Act, rules.
Whiteside was recently involved in the Coastal Resources Commission Conference. Along with the other issues discussed and resolved by the commission was a focus on the rules for the use of sandbags for the prevention of erosion. Whiteside says the attempt to stabilize the east end of Ocean Isle Beach is an ongoing project. He reviews site plans for new construction or renovations, for subdivisions and Planned Unit Developments (PUDs). He works in close concert with members of the Board of Commissioners, the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustments.
When asked what he is most proud of in his work, Whiteside says, “I love it when residents stop in to say how nice the people in town hall are to work with, how beautiful the building is and how professional and helpful the staff is.”
He says the hardest thing about his job is telling people “no.” “They come in with ideas of things they want to do that don’t always go along with the ordinances,” Whiteside says. “Sometimes these things have been their life-long dreams.
“I have to balance it, to explain the rules and ordinances and try to suggest modifications to their ideas to help them find a way to make them work,” Whiteside says. Some of the current projects in which Whiteside has been involved include The Landing, a new shopping center anchored by Lowe’s Foods, and Waterway Cove, a development of 200 single family homes on N.C. Highway 179.
Whiteside says he chose the right path in coming to the coast.
“It worked out great,” he says. “I love Ocean Isle Beach, my co-workers, my superiors, the Mayor and Board of Commissioners. I couldn’t work for a better town. My family is proud of me for taking the initiative, finding a good job and making a good life for myself.”
But Whiteside has another reason for being happy about the decisions he has made — a more personal reason. When he first began working for the town, his co-workers in the administration department decided to do a little matchmaking. They set up a blind date and introduced Whiteside to a Brunswick County girl named Becky Hall. The two hit it off right away, dated for a few years and were married three years ago in the First Baptist Church in Shallotte. Whiteside is justifiably proud of his wife and her achievements as well. Becky Whiteside, age 26, is an RN Clinical Analyst at Brunswick Community Hospital and is attending graduate school aiming for a master’s degree in Health Care Administration.
With one family on the coast and the other in the foothills, Whiteside says they manage by splitting holidays, spending Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas with the other, and his folks visit a couple of times during the summer when they can enjoy the beach.
Still, for Whiteside, transitioning from the foothills of the mountains to a life by the sea was not as easy as one would imagine.
“The adjustment was tough and is still challenging at times,” he says. “I love the four seasons and fall is my favorite time. Here we only have summer and winter. Becky graduated from East Carolina University so we go there to football games but we also go to games at Appalachian State University, which gives us some time in the foothills during the fall. We take mini vacations to go hiking around the Chimney Rock and Grandfather Mountain areas and to experience the snow in winter. Becky is learning to love the mountains too.”
In his spare time here, Whiteside loves going to the beach and playing basketball, and he and Becky do CrossFit training at CrossFit Ocean Isle Beach (a strength and endurance program) together.
As for the future, Whiteside says: “I plan to continue my career path, to move up with the town and, eventually, to start a family.”