08/09/11 — Building permits are up in city

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Building permits are up in city

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on August 9, 2011 1:46 PM

Building permits and inspections have seen a marked increase in the city during the last year, but county numbers tell a different story -- one that officials are chalking up to the poor economy.

The city has issued 39 residential permits and 92 commercial permits since January this year, while for 2010 it only issued 34 residential permits and 65 commercial permits.

Dollar amounts of permits have also increased, from $3,462,994 in residential permits for the first six months of 2010 to $3,946,168. Commercial permits increased from $12,947,533 to $119,524,000.

Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra said the building project at Cherry Hospital, the addition to Wayne Memorial Hospital's emergency department and the construction of a new Hyundai car dealership account for a portion of that increase, but ultimately he said the city is doing well.

"This year both residential and commercial are coming back and moving forward," Cianfarra said. "It shows there's a little more faith in the economy."

Although building permits have increased, Cianfarra added that most of those permits are for renovations of homes rather than new buildings. But he said he is confident the city is growing past its slump in 2009.

But county officials aren't so sure.

Two hundred county building permits have been issued since January, 78 fewer than in the first six months of 2010. Residential permits saw a decrease from 113 to 79, commercial from 49 to 37 and additions from 116 to 84.

County Building Inspector Steve Stroud said he thinks people still aren't willing to risk taking out loans to launch new building projects in the fragile economy.

"The building industry still hasn't recovered, and I'm not sure we haven't seen the worst of it," Stroud said. "I think people still don't want to step out ... and obligate themselves to a 30-year loan."

But Stroud did say there had been an increase of 400 electrical and mechanical permits issued in the last year because of stimulus money that gave people a $5,000 tax credit for installing energy-efficient technology in their homes.

He also said the county has some large projects in progress and on the horizon, such as Progress Energy's $900 million addition to its plant and the new Sleep Inn in Mount Olive.

Cianfarra said he thought the discrepancy between the county and the city's building numbers was partly because many homes in the city are older than in the county and therefore more likely to need renovation.

"The bank's very difficult to borrow money from, so they're saying, 'Let's fix what we have,'" Cianfarra said. "They're going to stay there a little longer than they thought."

He added that Olive Garden is ready to begin construction on its site where Sears Auto Center is, but the auto center has not yet announced when it will leave the property.

Daniel Parks, service manager at the auto center, said the business is waiting for its corporate leaders in Chicago to make a decision about a new location.

"We have no idea when we're going to be vacating," Parks said. "There's no timetable and this place ain't going anywhere until they find us somewhere else. We're getting information a little tiny bit at a time."

Parks said representatives from Sears corporate headquarters had identified a couple of possible locations during a recent visit and they are expected to return next week to look again.

Cianfarra added that he hopes the city doesn't have a similar situation to one that occurred with Red Lobster a few years back, when the restaurant had to wait so long to begin construction that it lost interest.

A spokesperson for Red Lobster could not confirm this because it is against corporate policy to comment on plans for new locations in the past or the future until projects receive final approval.

Staff Writer Ty Johnson contributed to this report.