Officials: Construction not picking up … yet

CHARLES TOWN – Officials who deal with residential and commercial development say they have not yet seen a large uptick, but they do see promising signs that point in that direction.

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AF TE R STE A DIL Y DE C LINING SIN C E 2008, it appears that new building permits may level off this year. The projection does not take seasonal activity into account.

AFTER STEADILY DECLINING SINCE 2008, it appears that new building permits may level off this year. The projection does not take seasonal activity into account.

“I’ve been seeing less foreclosures and short sales,” said Jefferson County Assessor Angie Banks. “I see a lot of transfers where the houses are bringing more than what we have them appraised for, which is a good sign.”

“At one time, foreclosures were basically the market. It was more than half the sales. Now we just don’t see as many, not nearly as many,” Banks said.

Housing prices are closer to where they should be, she said. “Maybe consumers’ confidence is improving,” Banks said.

County Planner Seth Rivard says he has not seen a dramatic boost in site plan applications – a prerequisite for commercial construction – but he has seen increased interest.

“I do feel that we are getting more broad interest about what can be done on a piece of property, and what can’t be done,” Rivard said. “I think we are seeing more interest than actual activity at this point.”

Rivard said that more zoning certificates have been issued in this fiscal year than in the last, an indication that interest in starting new businesses may be increasing.

“Zoning certificates are an indication of people who might be starting a business, with some minimal improvements on the site,” Rivard said. “Those are up a little bit this year.”

Banks said prices in some areas may have risen enough to merit higher tax assessments. “Looking at our neighborhoods, it looks like there are some we are going to have to adjust up, whereas, in prior years, I feel that there were more areas we were having to adjust down or stay the same.”

One strong indicator of new development is the number of building permits issued. If building permits continue at the current pace through December, it’s likely total construction on non-municipal lands will match the figure recorded in 2012.

New residential and commercial construction has not picked up much yet, but there are several indications that growth is coming.

New residential and commercial construction has not picked up much yet, but there are several indications that growth is coming.

The flattening off of building permit issuance could also be a preliminary positive sign, however, given that it has fallen almost continuously since 2008, dropping by about 25 percent over that time period.

Banks said sluggish new construction and flat or declining assessments have put significant pressures on county budgets, but there may be hope for a less austere 2015 budget.

“For 2014, money is going to be tight,” she said. “It is going to be tight in the future, but it may be better in 2015 once we look at the values of new construction and if we are able to adjust the values of properties up some.

“I think it is going to get better.”

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