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Please note: This article is Part One of a Development Article series, highlighting new changes in the development process in Kingsport.

The City of Kingsport is seeing a dramatic influx of people who want to call Kingsport home, and that has caused a spike in residential development to meet the demand.

Over the past six years, Kingsport has seen a rapid increase in the construction of new apartment units. To date, the occupancy rate of those units is either completely full or above 90%, and the demand for single-family housing also has greatly escalated. To meet that demand, the city has taken a close look at all things related to development.

According to the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors, Tri-Cities home sales were up 13% from last year. Market trends point to a regional home price sweet spot between $200,000-$399,999. This data, paired with the increase in home sales and a demand for a certain price point, only validated the claim that Kingsport needed new housing at a recognized high demand price point.

During a city strategic planning session in February, Alderman James Phillips expressed a desire for a housing summit. Over the course of a few months, both local and regional realtors, bankers, builders, design professionals and developers met with city officials.

“We sat down and took a hard look at our processes and our regulations to make sure that we were on par with our neighboring communities” said Jessica Harmon, Assistant to the City Manager. “During these various meetings, discussions centered on what changes needed to be made to the current development processes and regulations that would assist with the need for new housing stock while maintaining the quality of new subdivisions.”

The housing development feedback gathered from stakeholders was incredibly valuable and has helped to ensure that changes will benefit everyone involved. The Planning Department used this feedback to compare the city’s practices with those of surrounding communities.

This evaluation resulted in several changes, some of which include:

  • Implementing a clearly defined, efficient development process.
  • Making the city’s most popular zoning district more flexible regarding what can be built after comparing the district to other nearby cities.
  • Reviewing subdivision regulations to ensure that they are user friendly and on par with other surrounding jurisdictions.

An important change within the Planning Department included giving staff the authority to approve all subdivision proposals (minor and major, preliminary and final) instead of sending to the Planning Commission. This change allows rapid approvals for straightforward subdivision plans, which can mean a significantly shorter time for a developer to have a project up and running. Knoxville is the closest jurisdiction to Kingsport that handles subdivision approvals this way.

“Expectations for builders, developers and design professionals will be clear on the front end of the process,” Harmon said. “To help advance the process even further, the city development team is also meeting once a week to get through projects and answer questions.”

New software for the city’s Building Department also will help streamline the development process. This new software is a permit/inspection/code enforcement/planning tool utilizing land management. It integrates with other city software to ensure that all development-related staff are on the same page and informed – and it will provide real-time inspection updates to builders/contractors.

“Our updated software will help streamline a lot of daily tasks in the Building Department,” Chief Building Official Keith Bruner said. “From issuing electronic permits to quickly updating progress reports on active code enforcement cases, this is a big step forward for Kingsport.”

The city already is seeing promising results from these recent changes. At the Oct. 20 Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, several rezonings were approved to pave the way for more than 200 new housing units.

It’s been said that Kingsport is great for builders and developers to work with. Through this process revamp, Kingsport has now positioned itself to be the best in the area – and that’s a title to be proud of.

The city is far from finished, however, and will continue with its efforts now and in the future to make Kingsport the best place to build, work and live.