Editor’s Note: The Tri-Cities is growing and News Channel 11 wants to keep you informed of new construction underway commercially and residentially. Our weekly series “Who’s Building That?” uses public documents, research, community connections and hard work to bring you information about who’s building or renovating what, where, and for what use. You’ll also get facts and figures about project costs and potential property tax revenue as well as trend data. Don’t drive by and wonder anymore!
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — As contractors hustled to beat Thursday’s rain at an “infill” subdivision on a Kingsport hilltop, the city’s top building official said she sees no sign of slowing demand after a record 2022.
“It’s been a historic year for us,” Assistant City Manager Jessica Harmon told News Channel 11 Thursday.
The Model City saw 295 single-family home permits pulled by a mix of developers, both local builders and the nation’s largest home builder, D.R. Horton. That represents a 69% increase from 2021, which was a historically busy year itself. Permits tripled from 2020 when a total of 89 were pulled.
Even with worries about a possible recession looming, Harmon said she sees little evidence the brakes will get tapped soon in Kingsport specifically or Northeast Tennessee in general. City officials confer regularly with developers, whose preliminary development plans offer clues into the coming 12 to 24 months.
“People are still very interested in developing, there’s lots of interest around residential,” Harmon said. “Units are selling super fast, so we’re starting to see an increase in even our pre-development work that we do because things are selling and people are being freed up to do more work.”
A good bit of the work is taking place in pockets of land already surrounded by developed property and with much of the needed infrastructure — from roads and sewer to electricity and schools to serve students — already in place.
Harmon said the city is always on the lookout for opportunities to help spur this so-called “infill development” because of its many advantages. Not the least of those is the ability for builders to create housing that a broader range of families can afford.
“Infill is a great way to maintain an affordability index,” Harmon said, referring to a community’s need for a mix of price points for housing. “There’s not a lot of infrastructure costs for infill. So we’ve put a lot of emphasis over this past year really trying to identify some of these areas that could be infill development, which will take care of some of our more working classes.”
Two such examples are underway now. One is a small development on a pocket of land smack in the middle of town, just across Polk Street from Ross N. Robinson Middle School, and the other is a 38-home subdivision on the end of Hillcrest Street.
That new hilltop project saw Vic Davis prep the land and provide the needed infrastructure with a local builder, Terry Orth, constructing the homes on a new street called Frylee Court.
“That’s a great example of a lot that sat vacant for many, many years,” Harmon said. “Utilities were already to the site, obviously there was a road built but it is a very small road, didn’t require a whole lot of infrastructure. It’s a great example of infill.”
The other project, called Caymus Yard, occupies only about 3 acres purchased in an estate sale in 2021 for $250,000. A sign at the partially developed site shows pre-sale pricing between $279,900 and $369,900 for 2 to 4-bedroom homes.
‘People are really moving here’
Harmon said the demand isn’t just the result of people abandoning existing homes and moving from one place to another. Kingsport and Sullivan County are growing, after a decade during which the county grew much more slowly than neighboring Washington County.
U.S. Census Estimates show Sullivan County added more than 1,100 people in 2021. Harmon said she has no evidence to suggest that’s slowing.
“We talk with our realtors, people who are coming in are buying houses sight unseen,” she said. “We’ve got that kind of demand here. Realtors are calling, begging, ‘hey, what can you do to help give us some stock?'”
She said Jeff Fleming, a former city manager, tracks migration.
“We can see where people are coming from and it’s not, you know, from this street to that street here in Kingsport. It is outside the area.”
Harmon said the “great migration” of people moving for lifestyle, scenic beauty and quality of life is continuing as the number of folks who can work anywhere stabilizes even with COVID concerns largely in the rearview mirror.
“It’s beautiful to live here, the environment. There’s such a quality of life aspect here that isn’t necessarily in other areas. So (people) can come here and they can continue to do their work but live a whole different life.”
That growth is adding value to Kingsport’s property tax base. The estimated value of residential permits in 2022 was $71.4 million, up from $44.1 million in 2021 and almost triple 2020’s value of $24.7 million.
WHAT: 295 new single family permits in Kingsport, Tenn. in 2022 — a new annual high.
WHERE: In urban “infill” lots and newly annexed converted farmland on the city’s perimeter.
WHO: A mix of local and national builders.
WHEN: Permits pulled over entire calendar year.
YOUR TAX BENEFIT: At permit value of $71 million, around $800,000 annually in combined city and Sullivan County property taxes.