Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a career that includes something they enjoyed as a kid.
I always thought about architecture, Jim Thomas said about his teenage thoughts of a career. My dad was an engineer and he studied some architecture in school, and I was intrigued. ... I always wanted to get into some kind of design.
Thomas career has allowed him to be involved with architecture, design and other related fields since he graduated from the University of Georgia in 1979.
Executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission since 2009, Thomas, 57, has worked in the planning and zoning office for nearly 30 years.
Thomas was born in Oklahoma but came here in a bassinet, when his father was transferred to Macon with the former Ralston Purina Co. plant, which he managed for 30 years.
Thomas grew up near Rosa Taylor Elementary School in north Macon, and said he enjoyed a childhood that included Boy Scouts and Little League Baseball.
Of course back then we didnt have computers and video games, he said. Mom would kick us out of the house and say dont come back until dinner time. I had neighborhood friends and we rode our bikes everywhere.
When he was 16, he and three friends decided to ride their bicycles to the Outer Banks, N.C. -- more than 600 miles from Macon -- with his parents approval.
It took us three weeks, he said. I never had a breakdown until two miles outside of (Macon), on the trip back home. I had a flat tire, but had a spare. My parents made sure we were prepared.
When he spent time alone, he was usually drawing.
I could entertain myself for hours when my mom would give me a pen and paper or crayons or pencils, he said. I was building stuff, too. I was building model airplanes, and forts in the backyard. I had a huge Erector Set, Lincoln Logs and all those cool things.
He played golf and tennis when he was young, but football didnt do it for me, he said.
When he was old enough, he worked summers on the maintenance crew at the Ralston plant. One of his favorite summer jobs was working at the former Phillips Nursery in Macon.
Early jobs led to planning, zoning position
Thomas first job after college was working for Adele F. George, landscape architect.
He then worked for Bob Olson at the former Brittain, Thomason, Olson and Bray architects, now BTBB Inc., where he helped implement a federal façade program for downtown Macon.
Property owners would be offered a grant to improve their façades if they would match the funds and bring the interiors up to code. Thomas designed the façades and contracted the work.
After working for Olson for a short time when he left the firm, Thomas went back to Brittain, Thomason as a landscape architect and doing drafting for a couple of years.
In 1984, Thomas began working at the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission as a senior development review officer in charge of the zoning office.
Ive done everything here, he said.
He started a short-range planning program, became director of urban planning and served as assistant director for about four years. He was named executive director of the office shortly after Vernon Ryle retired at the end of 2008.
The office is responsible for all the land-use regulations and planning regulations for the city and county, which includes zoning, plat approvals and preparing a state-required comprehensive plan every 10 years, he said.
The office was designated in 1964 as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a federal and state designation that is required for any government that receives federal funds to build and improve roads.
Thomas office also is responsible for the design review for all of Macons historic districts, and it coordinates the development process in the city and county.
The upcoming consolidation of Macon and Bibb County should not change the function of the planning and zoning office, Thomas said.
When someone wants to build a shopping center, they have to go through several departments in the city and county, water authority, engineering and sometimes the health department if it includes food service, he said. We coordinate all of that and so we are the go-to (entity). Going forward, with consolidation, I think we will still have that role. Weve always been city and county. Weve always been, quote, consolidated. We have a set of regs for everybody.
Zan Thompson, owner of ZT3 Placemaker Studio, who does urban planning and design, has known Thomas since they were buddies in college and shared a drawing room.
We were the place to go in school if you needed to throw a game of darts during a break between drawing and classes, he said.
Thompson has represented clients who needed commission approval for projects, and so he has worked many times with Thomas and his staff over the years.
He said Thomas is a good listener and will go out of his way to try to help find a solution to a problem.
Hes done a very good job, Thompson said. He has taken what is a very complicated department ... and done a pretty good job of trying to make it more user friendly and easier for people to understand the process and get through the process. Hes tried to look at the regs that would benefit our community from an aesthetic point of view, as well as help encourage development here. And hes very savvy about those issues.
Thomas said one of the best parts of his job is improving things for the community.
I could be helping someone get a better site plan or improving a neighborhood, he said. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.