5 questions with Preston Mitchell, the city's development services director

David Floyd • Aug 18, 2019 at 8:23 PM

As the city’s development services director, Preston Mitchell plays a big part in the continued effort to foster business growth in Johnson City.

Mitchell is a native of Chattanooga and took over the position in November 2018 after spending 14 years as the development and code services manager in Salisbury, North Carolina. Before that, he worked for the city of Nashville.

He now oversees employees who work in several divisions of Johnson City government, including planning, codes enforcement and community development.

What brought you and your family to Johnson City?

Technically my job, but I was also sensing an internal tug to get back to Tennessee. Aside from a two-year stint in Nashville between 2002 and 2004, I’ve been gone for 20 years, and it was time to come home. It would have been easier to limit my search to another North Carolina city — and much less of a sales job on my gracious wife — but I felt compelled to look at East Tennessee cities as well. I am glad I listened to my gut.

What does your job as development services director entail?

When completing my tax returns, my profession is listed as city/urban planner. That’s my career, but quite limiting as a description for my job. City planners in the private sector are the ones who “plan” in the truest sense of the word; whereas, public sector planners are facilitators — the hub of a large and complex wheel that includes similar and competing interests. My job involves protecting and furthering the public interest, opening doors of opportunity, as well as encouraging and enabling an incredibly-talented team of development professionals to constantly strive for excellence in what they do.

What have you and your department been doing recently to foster growth in Johnson City?

Implementing, Improving, and Plowing: Implementing — We are implementing existing and newly-adopted plans and policies that are launched by your City Commission, such as the West Walnut Street Corridor Redevelopment Plan. Improving — We are working with your Planning Commission to study and revise several codes and ordinances — revisions that must strike a balance between the protection of public health, safety, and welfare while removing unnecessary obstacles to quality growth and development. Plowing — We are plowing through old and outdated administrative processes that are either no longer applicable or simply ineffective.

So far, how has Johnson City differed from Salisbury?

Cities are like people. They exhibit a similar layout (all of our arms and legs and head are in the same place), they function and operate in a similar fashion, and the people within cities exhibit similar ideals, concerns, and desires. The beauty, however, is in the messy details. That’s the fun part.

Johnson City and Salisbury were settled 116 years apart from each other; 1869 and 1753, respectively. They were both settled along major rail lines or trading paths and relatively close to a large river. They grew and developed in much the same organic fashion; yet again, this is where the similarities end and the diverging begins. Each community exhibits a unique spirit and conviction. It is our job to tap into that artery and gain an understanding by listening, sharing, and connecting.

What's one city project that locals should be keeping an eye on and why?

West Walnut Corridor. It is fundamental in facilitating smaller-scale entrepreneurial economic opportunities and building an enduring bridge between a growing university, medical community, and the remarkable success of a revitalized downtown core. God willing, at 46, I have another 20+ years in this seat. In that time, I plan to facilitate the organic growth that will make this a reality.

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