Cookout is STILL planning a restaurant in Elizabethton

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I have recently heard from many citizens something that has reached a level of concern for me — the status of the Cookout Restaurant proposed for Elizabethton. In the last few weeks, I have been asked multiple times what the city has done to make Cookout change their mind and no longer come to Elizabethton.

The first time I heard this, I’m sure my facial expression gave away my complete ignorance of this comment. Let me say, to the best of our knowledge and in our latest discussions with the Cookout Company, they are STILL planning on coming to Elizabethton. As a matter of fact, they already have all of the approvals they need to proceed with demolition and construction.
To my knowledge, during the last six years that I have held my current position, not a single chain restaurant or business has decided not to locate in Elizabethton because of our requirements or regulations. As a matter of fact, in the last six years we have worked hard to ensure that our regulations and requirements are not overly burdensome and that our staff go above-and-beyond to find work arounds or alternative solutions to problems that businesses may have with our regulations.
Our Planning Commission has started receiving extensive amounts of training to help them better understand why certain regulations are in place and have been a big help in crafting some of our newer regulations like the revamped Tree Regulations and the new Sign Regulations. Both regulations worked to ease and reduce strict requirements for developers while still setting standards that the community would find acceptable.
When you compare development regulations in Elizabethton to our neighboring municipalities, it is much easier to complete a development in Elizabethton verses Johnson City, Bristol, or Kingsport. Our processes allow for a 21 day turn-around time from plan submission to approval. Developers have commended us on the development team we have put together once a month (called the Development Committee) where we bring in staff from every department they may need to work with. We actively ask for feedback from Developers at the end of the process seeking to determine what can be improved to make this process easier for the developer. Most recently the Dairy Queen developers have commented that out of all the communities they have developed in, Elizabethton has been by far the best, specifically citing our quick turn-around time and same-day phone call and email responses by staff.
There is a lot that is happening behind the scenes that many people in the public do not see. It can easily appear complicated, heavily regulated, and burdensome. But once you work in this field or develop in multiple communities, you quickly realize that the process we have worked to improve over the last 6 years is actually quite efficient and effective. It’s by no means perfect, and we will continue to improve making it easier for businesses to locate here in Elizabethton.
Oh, as far as Cookout is concerned, it is well-known that the real estate company for Cookout will sit on property for a year or two before developing (as they did with the Backyard Burger building in Johnson City). In that case, we may still have 6 months to a year before they develop, but I assure you it has nothing to do with Elizabethton’s requirements and regulations. Let’s talk about it!
Jon Hartman is Director of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Elizabethton. He can be contacted at: or by calling 542-1503.

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