City of Beaufort new-construction permits on rebound

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City of Beaufort new-construction permits on rebound

By ERIN MOODY
emoody@beaufortgazette.com
Published Saturday, January 7, 2012   |  653 Words  |  

One house at a time, the city of Beaufort is filling downtown lots with new buildings.

A tally of new-construction permits for 2011, completed Friday, suggest building activity in the city has nearly returned to pre-recession levels.

There were 41 single-family home permits, no multi-family and four commercial -- 45 in all. A year ago, there were 42.

"Our numbers ... were never super aggressive, even during the high times of the mid-2000's so a return to steady -- say, 45 to 55 residential permits and five to six commercial -- is a good sign," city manager Scott Dadson said. "A good sign, because we can continue to afford to provide public services without a 'real' increase in costs for those services."

Building permits are good for 180 days. The cost depends on the project, but fees frequently reach into the thousands of dollars. In January, the city received $2,320 for two home permits. In November, it got $19,348 for three home permits and one commercial. The money goes into the general fund to pay for costs associated with applications, permits and code and building enforcement, Dadson said.

Although the housing industry as a whole continues to struggle, Beaufort has several factors in its favor, said Allen Patterson, president of the Homebuilders Association of the Lowcountry. Inexpensive, vacant lots in or near the downtown abound, and there's renewed interest in urban living instead of gated suburbs.

Most of the 2011 permits were for construction within the city core for vacant or under-used properties where utilities already are in place, Dadson said.

Building in the developed areas not only saves money on construction, but the local amenities become part of the attraction for home buyers, developer Steve Tully said.

"When you build in a downtown area, you don't have to build a single amenity because they are already there," he said.

He is selling homes and mixed-use buildings in the Mid-Town development almost as fast as he is building them, he said. Customers used to "condo prisons" with homeowners associations and fees are pleased to find a community pool, gym and other facilities nearby.

"This isn't like some of the developments designed with an urban feel," Tully said. "Being in Beaufort is truly being downtown."

Beaufort is growing "incrementally" from within, Mayor Billy Keyserling said. Small projects building single houses or businesses within the city are less risky for developers than tackling large apartment or commercial complexes, he said.

"The suburbs are taking a slide, and there's a lot of enthusiasm about what we're doing to develop the city in its own footprint," Keyserling said.

Permits are slightly increasing for new commercial building, and there's also renewed interest in using existing, vacant space. Recent examples are Griffin Market opening in the former Sea Island Wine & Gourmet Market on Carteret Street and plans to transform the Lipsitz Department Store downtown into stores and apartments.

In the town of Port Royal, permits also ticked upward in 2011, but few were for the downtown area, town planner Linda Bridges said. Permits for single-family homes were up by nine to 54, and 60 multi-family permits were awarded. Commercial permits, however, dropped from three to zero.

Patterson said he thinks development in the downtown region will take off if the proposed Port of Port Royal plan is successful over the next few years.

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