01/07/08 — Building not slow in county for 2007

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Building not slow in county for 2007

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 7, 2008 2:00 PM

Cooperation between city and county governments lessened the impact of the nationwide housing crunch in 2007, local officials say.

And with a couple of major projects completed in 2007 and more expected in 2008, Goldsboro Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra says Wayne County is set to do very well in the coming years.

Cianfarra said he has seen a lot more cooperation between the local governments than he did 25 years ago when he came to work for the city.

And because of this cooperation, local housing starts have not suffered like they did across the rest of the nation, which has seen an average drop of up to 28 percent in new construction. In Goldsboro, housing starts are only down about 10 percent.

Cianfarra said the state is down about 12 percent.

"We're doing better than the rest of the country. We're going down, but we're going down slower," he said.

But it's commercial construction that pays the bills in the city, he said. Cianfarra said 90 percent of the construction going on in the city is commercial, and only 10 percent is residential.

The county is opposite.

"Everybody wants to live in the county," he said.

County building inspector Steve Stroud said residential construction was running neck-and-neck with 2006 figures until a couple of months ago, when the housing crunch slowed activity.

"We hope we'll pick up about spring," he said. "December and January usually slows down anyway, but it seems a little more than normal."

The Wayne County Inspections Department issued 702 building permits with a total estimated construction cost of almost $69.8 million.

This included 368 permits for single family dwellings and two for duplexes, with a total construction cost an estimated $57.8 million, compared to $67 million in 2006.

But with almost 400 new airmen and their families coming to Seymour Johnson and the AT&T call center a reality, he expects residential construction to pick up again.

Non-residential construction projects included six churches, an industry, an office building, a public works utility, a school, three stores and some other kinds of buildings at a total estimated construction cost of $6.3 million.

If the interest rates keep dropping, Cianfarra said he expects to see those businesses that have been sitting on the fence to make decisions on expanding their physical plants. Interest rates have come down about a quarter of a point since the housing crisis began earlier this year. Cianfarra said the building community is hoping for another quarter point.

Cianfarra said he is pleased with the amount of construction that has taken place in Goldsboro.

"It was another good year," he said.

The Goldsboro Inspections Department issued 517 construction permits in 2007 for construction costing an estimated $85.6 million.

This included 305 permits for $19.8 million in residential construction and 212 permits for $65.8 million in commercial starts. The commercial permits included 54 for upfits of storefronts at a cost of $5.6 million and 73 new building permits for construction costing about $47.3 million.

The latest big project, the Wal-Mart at Rosewood, was done using the city's new computer system that allows the inspectors to transmit the results to the contractors by using laptops at the construction site.

"The city spent a large amount of money to make us mobile inspectors," Cianfarra said, adding that with the cell phones, e-mails and faxes, contractors can get the results from their inspections within five minutes.

"The developers can plan their next move in minutes," he said. "Berkeley Commons is a perfect example. They've picked up the certificates of occupancy, and all the shops are now ready for potential customers."

He said the Wal-Mart job went smoothly, and added that homeowners also like the new system.

One of the highest costs to a homeowner was having to pay the contractor up to $85 an hour to sit in the waiting room at the Inspections Department.

Now with the new system, Cianfarra said, the homeowner can pull up the project on the Internet and find out exactly how much progress the contractor has made. And he doesn't have to pay up to $100 extra just to replace a hot water heater, because the contractor gets the results of his inspection in an instant.

The computer system cost the city $250,000, but in May, Cianfarra expects to be able to pay it all back.

The contractors told him two years ago they would be willing to pay a $15 technology fee on top of the costs of their inspections.

June will be two years. The system will pay for itself in May. The taxpayers will be happy, too, because the Goldsboro Inspections Department has become 96 percent self-supporting.