Waiting for the boom
by Kellen Short
Through the end of June, the Watauga County Planning and Inspections Department has issued 467 permits for construction, renovation and alteration projects - a 12 percent increase from the same period last year.
The estimated cost for all permitted projects also has increased, from about $27.4 million during the first half of 2012 to almost $37 million in the first half of this year, according to data provided by the department.
While construction activity is still nowhere near the level it was in 2007 before the recession, any growth is viewed as good news for the local economy.
"I think we're on pace with the previous year," said Joe Furman, Watauga County Planning and Inspections director. "2012 was a recovery year, and it appears we're on about the same pace as that year."
The permits include residential and commercial properties and range from simple porch additions and plumbing alterations to complete new home construction.
The figures do not include permits issued by the towns of Boone or Blowing Rock for projects within town limits.
In the first half of this year, the Watauga County Planning Department has granted 65 permits for single-family detached homes. It issued 127 in all of 2012 and only 90 in 2011, according to department records.
In 2007, the county department issued exactly 305 permits for single-family homes.
Furman said the Cottages of Boone project is still playing in to some of the apparent growth. The student housing community, located off Poplar Grove Road South in the New River township, includes more than 100 individual homes and duplexes.
Furman said the large development accounts for 20 of the single-family home permits and all 34 of the two-family home permits issued in the last six months.
Looking forward to the next six months, Furman can't say for sure what to expect.
"We're usually pretty busy in the fall, also," he said. "Of course, we might have a new normal, but for years and years the falls would be busy because of trying to get houses under roof for winter work. ... Typically, at least in the past, the spring has probably been the heaviest months for permits being issued."
Slow and steady may have worked for the tortoise, but some Watauga County contractors would likely prefer the fast and furious growth they once saw.
Perry Yates, owner of New River Building Supply and a Watauga County commissioner, said he is seeing about 5 percent to 8 percent growth this year.
He said morale still seems to be mixed among local contractors, who have to fight for every job.
"The quoting has picked up," he said. "You may not get the job, but at least the activity is beginning to pick up."
He said there remains more interest in remodeling -- deck replacement, window upgrades and kitchen remodels -- than in new construction.
"Overall, it's a pretty positive attitude," he said. "I think we've all had to adjust to lean times, and I think we've done a good job as an industry in Watauga County ... adjusting to leaner times."
At Three Rivers Building Supply near Blowing Rock, manager Tim Hardin said he believes activity is definitely increasing over 2012, which he called "our worst year since we've been in business."
He said he was aware of more new houses underway now than in the recent past, but added that he isn't sure whether it will quickly translate into long-term rebounding for the industry.
"I'm still hearing a lot of insecurities -- not a lot of confidence that it's going to continue," Hardin said. " ... I think maybe it will just take a little while to build everybody's confidence back into the long-term things."
BY THE NUMBERS
A peek at Watauga County permit statistics for the first half of 2013
467: Number of permits Watauga County issued
$36.98 million: Total estimated building cost for projects
112: Permits issued in the New River township, which includes the Cottages of Boone project
3: Permits issued in the North Fork township, the northernmost section of the county adjoining Ashe County and the state line
79: Permits issued for residential electrical alterations, the most of any permit category
Permits by township
New River: 112
Blue Ridge: 61
Blowing Rock: 33
Meat Camp: 29
Brushy Fork: 28
Cove Creek: 20
Stony Fork: 20
Laurel Creek: 19
Beaver Dam: 17
Bald Mountain: 8
North Fork: 3--------------
Permits by type
Residential electrical alteration: 79
Residential remodel/conversion: 71
Single family detached house: 65
Residential HVAC alteration: 46
Two-family house: 34
Residential gas alteration: 31
Residential deck/patio/porch/retaining wall: 27
Residential addition: 21
Commercial remodel/conversion: 19
Residential R-2: 17
Storage building: 11
Commercial electrical alteration: 9
Modular single family detached: 5
Commercial deck/patio/porch/retaining wall: 4
Residential plumbing alteration: 2
Utility and miscellaneous: 1
Assembly A-3: 1
Mercantile M: 1
Business B: 1
Commercial gas alteration: 1
Commercial HVAC alteration: 1
Commercial addition: 1