Meet Justin Sanders, Town Planner

Meet Justin Sanders, Town Planner
Posted on 10/03/2019
Zoning; many of us may not know what that means right off the bat. I had a vague idea before I started working for the Town of Pulaski, and I’m sure I still don’t understand all of the intricacies of the role. It’s without a doubt a difficult job to master. But zoning plays a critical role in a variety of ways, and no less so here in the Town of Pulaski. With the word of the day, week and year being ‘expansion’, new businesses and potential residents have their eyes set on Pulaski; it’s becoming a very attractive destination. Luckily, our zoning needs are in good hands in the Town.

Justin Sanders serves as the Town Planner. He’s been working for the Town since September of 2017, and just recently celebrated his 2nd anniversary of being here! As the Town Planner, he oversees all planning and zoning affairs alongside Nichole Hair, Deputy Town Manager and Zoning Administrator for the Town of Pulaski. “I’m usually the first contact people have when they come to the Town regarding planning and zoning.” A big part of that entails working alongside every department here at the Town offices. Justin assists with building permits ensuring that they meet zoning compliance and works with the Finance department when people are looking to obtain business licenses, along with plenty of other operations including projects within engineering and meeting goals set forth by several boards within the Town. “I provide staff support for the Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals, and the Architectural Review Board. I work with applicants bringing proposals to those boards, preparing application materials for those boards, I take meeting minutes, and I make sure the required public notices go out for all of those meetings.” As you can tell, Justin stays very busy; but his responsibilities don’t end there; he also assists with special events programming, the parks department which was absorbed into the Community Development department, and the Zoning Enforcement and Code Violations Department. “There’s a lot that I have my hands in.” 

Before Justin was brought on to work with the Town, much of the workload was on Nichole Hair’s shoulders. But with the increase in interest from businesses and people in Pulaski’s continuing revitalization, it was clear that the Town needed to bring in much needed help to distribute the work being done. “I think that’s been very beneficial, because what we’ve been able to do is continue to develop our customer service and our outreach. We are much more proactive now than reactive, so when citizens come in [to the office] with questions, they can get answers before they get deep into a project.” That’s become one of the primary goals of the Town; to maintain a positive customer service relationship with the citizens of the Town. After all, our citizens are our most valuable resource. 

Justin’s position with the Town is actually his first position working with a government entity. “My first job right out of college I actually worked in the non-profit sector, working for the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a field service representative. I had a 12-county service region where I was providing direct technical assistance to property owners, local governments, and other groups on historic preservation projects.” Even though this position was non-profit, his experience in working with the public was invaluable when he began his work as the Town Planner. Throughout his studies of architecture while in school, Justin realized that historic preservation was something that really spoke to his interests and passion, and working in the field after graduating helped to cement that passion. Working with the Town has allowed him to continue doing what he loves, alongside rounding out other skillsets that are pertinent to his overall love of Southwest Virginia’s culturally and architecturally historic areas. “Working with the Architectural Review Board and working on these various projects really started to help the Town realize that we can progress forward, we can change and we can redevelop, but honor our history at the same time.” 

Justin is no stranger to public service; his father was a fireman and his mother was a teacher. Being around people who devoted their lives to serving their community, I can see why Justin gravitated to putting his skills to use in the non-profit and government fields. With that in mind, he was the perfect fit here in the Town offices. “I do feel like I have this calling to public service. Public service is all about being proactive; it’s about looking at a community, looking at your neighbors, talking with them and having really honest conversations and figuring out what are their issues and what can we do.” According to Justin, this is a big reason the Town has enjoyed renewed attention in terms of attracting businesses and citizens. Our tagline (Where Your New Path Begins) plays to that attitude within the Town. We see Pulaski as an opportunity to begin anew for anyone who wants to take part in the rejuvenation of a fantastically lively community in Southwest Virginia that’s constantly on the lookout for ways to improve while preserving our past well into the future. 

Justin knows all about small town life; he was raised in one. “I grew up in a very small town. I’ve only ever worked in small towns. I think growing up and working in that environment, you know the people you’re serving. And I think there’s a different charge when you know the people you’re serving as opposed to a bigger community where they’re just this abstract idea.” I can attest to Justin’s opinion; I was also raised in a small town, and when I moved to the area to attend Radford University (whose student population was larger than my hometown population), I could feel a difference in the way things operated. Given I was a student, so I wasn’t privy to all the goings-on in the community, but I could still feel the change. When I began working for the Town, I regained that familiar ‘everyone knows everyone’ vibe, and it felt like I was home. Justin and I were also similar in our aspiration to escape Southwest Virginia and see more of the wide, wide world. But things change, and as time marches on so do our goals. In the past five or six years of Justin’s life, his pride in being a Southwest Virginia native has come to the forefront of his identity. “Southwest Virginia is resilient. We’ve had to fight for every single thing we’ve got, and I think it gives you an appreciation that people who grew up more privileged or grew up in an area that’s more affluent, they don’t necessarily understand that as much.” Pulaski is “scrappy”, according to Justin. That’s what drew him to working in the area; we’re not going to take things laying down, and we’ll fight for what we believe in. 

Outside of work in the office, Justin enjoys staying active as much as he can where and when he can. Big Brothers Big Sisters, a non-profit program in which community professionals have one-on-one mentor relationships with youth from the community, is one big activity that he’s proud to be a part of. He feels it’s very important to provide the spark in young people to strive for excellence in their lives; he made it a point that Big Brothers Big Sisters can always use more volunteers, so if that sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, you can check out how to join here. Justin is also very active in Christiansburg, serving on a non-profit board for downtown revitalization in Christiansburg. On a more leisurely note he loves being outside hiking, travelling, cooking, and being with friends, often visiting local wineries together. “I try to stay busy. I am not someone who can usually be seen sitting around doing nothing. It’s fulfilling for me. I went to school at Virginia Tech and fell in love with the New River Valley; I left for a few years and when I came back it just felt like I was coming back home.” 

Overall when it comes to Pulaski, Justin’s favorite thing about the Town is its people. “Regardless of whether people were born here or they moved here, people believe in this place. There’s a pride in this community. There is a spirit of wanting to make everything better. It’s a great community and I’m lucky to work here.” 

Justin loves animals, but he’s definitely partial to our feline friends. He has a 12 year old cat named Isis, after the Egyptian goddess of life and magic. When it’s time to take a break and get away for a bit, his preferred vacation destination is the Virgin Islands. He went there on vacation about 10 years ago to Saint Croix and the beauty and people just stuck with him. Unfortunately, Justin is not a fan of pineapple on pizza. “I love pineapple, I’ll eat it in just about any iteration, but something about it being on pizza just doesn’t work for me.” To each their own; I guess we can’t all be pineapple pizza lovers!

Working with Justin has been a wonderful experience since I first began with the Town myself, and I know that everyone here at the Town offices considers him to be an irreplaceable part of our lives. I look forward to working with him on projects coming up, and bringing those to Pulaski at large! 

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