‘Better call Chuck’

Chuck Smith

In Lewisburg, when people want answers to just about anything to do with planning and zoning, the mantra at City Hall is – “Better call Chuck.”

As Lewisburg’s Planning and Zoning Officer for the past five years, Chuck Smith has been the go-to guy with all the answers and the authority of the inner workings of Lewisburg. Smith, whose retirement begins on April Fools Day, will be missed for his able and personable style, and his ability to handle the tasks of city planning and zoning laws knowledgeably and professionally.

Planning and zoning oversight means knowing what can or cannot be developed within a given piece of property inside city limits. It’s Smith’s job to review all new commercial projects that require a permit. No trench or drain, wall, window or structure is built without Smith knowing about it. He also works with the City’s planning commission in reviewing project plans and site plan approvals. He is the zoning code enforcer for the city as well. For the past two years Smith and members of the planning commission have held monthly workshops in conjunction with West Virginia University’s Law College consultants to establish an accurate, updated zoning map of Lewisburg, according to the city’s latest 10-year comprehensive plan. City planning is a laborious effort and requires dedication to details.

With regard to Lewisburg’s home rule certification, Smith has had absolute authority to write tickets. If, for example, your yard isn’t mowed frequently enough, he could politely issue you with a ticket. But, as of the end of this week, Smith will no longer be in the employ of the City of Lewisburg. His job will pass on to Gary Ford as the planning and zoning officer, and Ford will become the new go-to guy in Lewisburg – with Smith’s blessing.

Smith resides in Lewisburg with his wife, Debbie. He has two daughters, now grown with their own lives – one as a nurse, the other a school teacher. He also has five grandchildren. When he retires, he won’t be foot-loose spending time on the golf course. No sir. As a guy who’s lived his whole life in Lewisburg and knows the entire county like the back of his hand, Smith has no plans to move away. In fact, with his retirement from the City of Lewisburg, he will resume full-time oversight of his surveying business, Greenbrier Professional Surveying.

Smith has been a surveyor since he got his professional West Virginia surveying license in 1991 after receiving his civil engineering technology degree. He promptly went to work for other surveyors until 1996, when he started his own business. Operating with a crew of three, Greenbrier Professional Surveying PLLC operates mostly in Greenbrier County, with forays in both Pocahontas and Monroe counties and throughout the state, researching and surveying for clients on both rural properties and city lot sites.

“Surveying is like working with pieces of a puzzle,” he said. “They should all fit together nicely.”

For obvious reasons, research is a big part of a surveyor’s job, spent in the file-crowded deed room at the courthouse, pouring over records of adjoining property deeds in search of duplicate references to the marker in question. Deeds often retain the original language and definitions used by the first surveyor of that particular plot, Smith says. Some may even date back to when the county was first populated by settlers in the mid-1700s. In this way the surveyor describes the bearings and distances that encompass property boundary research, and it’s the job of the intervening surveyor to find those original boundaries, all of which is done before the field work is begun.

“The original survey cannot be disputed” – that’s the holy grail for surveyors. It is the basis for the rule: “If you don’t survey like the original surveyor surveyed,” Smith intoned, “then you won’t expect to find what they found.”

Rural boundary jobs are different in scope and time than city-lot work, Smith said at a recent sit-down talk. Natural elements that can stand the test of time are what traditionally serve as the corner boundaries. “Metes-and-bounds” is the principal legal term for land descriptions, Smith said, and is commonly used to describe survey areas that are irregular in size and shape. The land boundaries are run out by courses and distances, and a marker, whether natural or artificial, such as a post or tree or rock outcropping, is what are used to fix the corners, or angles.

When a corner is missing, the surveyor must rediscover it by means of “retracement.” Retracement surveying is like a forensic investigation, says Smith, and sometimes it takes a real effort to find the remains of a tree or post, or whatever marker was originally described. Even when a tree is gone, the remnants can be found in the soil, Smith said.

Rural properties can sometimes take weeks to work out. City lots, on the other hand, can be done in a day or so, and constitute, to surveyors, the “cash flow” that helps keep jobs coming in and to make ends meet for the crew. Though the measuring is easier, city lots are by no means less important. Accuracy is absolutely demanded. The price per square foot reflects an important investment, and Smith urges prospective buyers to confirm the property boundaries before they buy and to not wait until a problem arises. This includes surveying for a fence, or in settling a dispute between adjoining properties. In the case of cutting timber, if boundaries are not clear and one cuts someone else’s timber, it could cost three times the value in damages.

Smith said after retiring from the city, the transition to running his surveying company as a full-time, self-employed person is a trade-off with few benefits, but, he says he will welcome a little more flexibility, the freedom to attend more family events, and perhaps, a little more time off. Now, he can look after his employees and bring in more jobs for them to go to. “It’s more than just myself that matters,” he said.

For inquiries about his professional surveying services, Smith can be reached at 304-645-6040 or at his business office at 348 Blue Sulphur Pike. Greenbrier Professional Services handles all types and phases of surveying, including properties in the flood zones needing a flood elevation certificate, useful to property owners to get their insurance rates lowered.