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Construction season off to slow startBut improved economy could spark a jump

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Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2001 12:00 am

ELLENSBURG — The construction season for homes and other dwelling units is off to a slower start compared to last year, but local building officials say it could get busier if the economy gets stronger.

Mike Burtness, director of the Kittitas County Department of Building and Fire Safety, said the number of building permits issued and pending for new homes in non-city areas lags behind last year’s pace.

As of the end of March, new home permits issued since Jan. 1, 2001, totaled 23 compared to 30 issued by the same time in 2000. March 2001 saw 10 permits issued, fewer than the 14 issued in March 2000.

Burtness said that may not seem like a big difference, but figures in April 2000 showed 50 new home approvals were granted in the first four months of that year. As of Monday, four new home building permits had been issued so far in April, and six applications were pending.

“I don’t think we’ll see 27 home permits issued this month to get to that April 2000 point,” Burtness said. “It has definitely been slower than last year. But if the economy gets better, we may see things end up this year about where we were at the end of last year. Who can really predict what’s going to happen?”

The county issued 186 permits for new homes in 2000.

Burtness said the economy is the wild card and believes many people are holding off on constructing new homes to see if things get better.

Positive points include lower than usual lumber prices and reduced interest rates, said Burtness. But the economy, the energy crisis, and the projected drought in the Yakima River basin have some people “cooling their heels.”

“Some contractors have said people have told them to wait on their plans,” he said. “And there probably will be some kind of economic ripple effect to the drought situation, too.”

Allison Kimball, the department’s program coordinator, said building action could change quickly. As an example, she said only two people came to the office in the old Berry’s building on Monday morning, but the afternoon saw more than 15.

“You never know what will happen,” she said.

She said two people from the Puget Sound area indicated they had lost money in the recent stock market downturn, and resubmitted home building plans that were smaller. One person said they lost $80,000.

Ellensburg city building division officials said 46 construction permits were issued by the end of March in 2000, compared to 34 in the first three months of this year.

“Compared to last year around this time it does seem less busy, but we had some fairly big projects going on then,” said William Anderson, a building inspector.

Plans came in last year for Fred Meyer’s retail store, the Kittitas Valley Community Hospital expansion and remodel, the county fairgrounds remodeling, the Yakima Federal Savings and Loan expansion and others. And these projects then started requiring many inspections as different phases were completed, he said.

But work around town doesn’t seem to indicate a slower pace with the above projects on going, Water Street improvements underway, and duplexes under construction. Permits were issued in March for a project on North Chestnut Street involving a four-plex building, a tri-plex, and two duplexes on four lots.

In addition, site preparation and utility work began last year on a large apartment project off North B Street. Eighteen structures began going up in January 2001, involving 72 units packaged in a number of two-story four-plexes and tri-plexes. A combination office, recreation room, and manager’s residence is also being built at the site.

Inspectors are still busy with inspections for many aspects of the bigger projects, as well as the new homes going up in the city. Anderson said there have been inquiries related to possible new commercial buildings, but no plans have yet been submitted.

“There may not be as many plans coming in right now, but it could change at any time,” Anderson said.

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