SPEARFISH, SD – Innovation has long been associated with the City of Spearfish, thanks in part to the work of City Planner Jayna Watson, who will retire Friday after 18 years of service to the community.
“We like to do ‘firsts,’” she said of the City’s approach to planning, zoning, and development.
Watson, a graduate of Sturgis Brown High School and South Dakota State University, where she majored in landscape design/architecture, worked in Scottsdale, Arizona, as the development planning manager before returning to the Black Hills in 2004.
“Spearfish is obviously the ‘crown jewel’ of the Black Hills,” she said, describing how the location and proximity to family, as well as her readiness for a change from the big-city pace, played into her decision to apply for the City Planner position.
“When I first got here, there were a lot of things that were happening in wireless technology. We never had an ordinance that governed how big/how tall/where telecommunications poles can go,” she said of one of the first major project she worked on. The fact that most people probably don’t know where this infrastructure is located speaks to how that work resulted in infrastructure that fit into the layout of the City seamlessly.
Watson is quick to point out she is part of a much larger team when looking at what has been accomplished over the years.
“My role was to make sure we had a good team to help provide input into how the development should look,” she said.
“The landowners initiate the project and their vision, and then we (City staff) provide input and direction for what our ordinances and policies require,” with the City’s elected leadership making sure the vision fits the community.
Watson has enjoyed learning from other professionals’ expertise when involved with the various teams with which she serves, from the Building and Development staff, to developers, to elected officials, and more. Planning involves considerations into numerous topics, so in collaborating with the various team members involving in the planning and development process, she has learned about everything from lift stations and gravity water supply systems to building code, to name a few.
“That’s been the most fun part, is being able to broaden my professional vocabulary to include other knowledge,” she said, describing how a planner gets to be a generalist in everything, with a broad skillset and repository of knowledge.
“One morning, I might be having a conversation about legal concepts with the City Attorney, and two hours later, I’m trying to work with the engineers on technical things, so that’s what’s fun about planning.”
Watson pointed out that planning is a high-demand field right now and encouraged young people to consider the trade:
“If you like variety, and you really like problem-solving, planning would be for you.”
While Watson is looking forward to a slower pace in retirement, she plans to stay involved and will be working part-time to assist with the transition as Planning Director Nick Broyles comes onboard.
“I’m very grateful for our staff. We have the best and the brightest in this building,” Watson said, describing how City staff are committed to doing the best they can to make our community safe, beautiful, and sustainable.
She added her thanks to the members of the Spearfish Planning Commission, whom she described as
“unsung heroes” who put in time to vet and craft planning projects in their initial stages, as well as members of the City Council, who have always been supportive of creative approaches and innovative ideas that have shaped Spearfish.
Watson was recognized during the City Council meeting Monday, as it was her final meeting as City Planner, and she was lauded and thanked by department heads and the Mayor and Council for her years of knowledgeable, professional service and her team approach.
“I’ve appreciated your work, as many people here have, as well,” Mayor John Senden said, as all those present provided a round of applause.
Watson, addressing everyone present at the meeting, thanked everyone in the room and shared a quote, with the caveat,
“Although building a city and planning a city is not like putting a man on the moon, I love the context here,” as she read from President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech describing the space race:
We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win …
“We are winning,” Watson said to those present.
“We are winning in affordable housing. We are winning in redevelopment, so congratulations to you, too.”
Photo caption: City Planner Jayna Watson was recognized Monday for her years of service to Spearfish. Photo courtesy City of Spearfish