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Construction boom keeping Pa. county's builders busy

February 04, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Led by single-family homes, construction boomed in Franklin County, Pa., last year, with the estimated value of building permits issued increasing by more than $100 million from 2003.

Permits were issued for 1,132 single-family homes valued at $156.6 million last year, compared to 780 permits worth an estimated $92.6 million in 2003, according to figures from the County Tax Services Office. The total number of permits, including multifamily homes, additions, improvements and commercial and industrial construction was 4,685 with a value of $272.2 million, according to the statistics.

Total permits in 2003 were 3,108 worth an estimated $166.9 million, according to tax office figures.

"It'll be at a healthy pace in '05 ... There's a lot of things cooking out there," said Phil Wolgemuth, the planning director for Chambersburg. Continued commercial and residential development of the Gabler tract in the North End, proposed residential development along Mill Road and plans for 200 town houses off Hollywell Avenue are among projects that will keep construction companies and crews busy, he said.

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Permits were issued for 68 new homes in the borough last year, along with 113 residential additions, 14 new commercial buildings and 84 commercial additions and alterations.

The value of that construction was $27.2 million, according to Commonwealth Code Inspection Services, which issues permits and does inspections for the borough and most of the other 21 municipalities in the county.

Construction in 2003 amounted to $18.8 million, according to borough figures.

"There'll probably be three or four housing developments that get started this year ... We'll probably hit 200 houses this year," said Gerald Zeigler, the code enforcement officer for Washington Township, which borders the borough of Waynesboro, Pa.

The township also is looking at large commercial projects in Wal-Mart and a Lowe's Home Improvement Center.

"The boomer generation is hitting 55 and they're all retiring up here," drawn by low land and construction costs, as well as the lure of living in a state that does not tax pension income, Zeigler said. That could be trouble down the road, he said.

"The long-term problem with Pennsylvania ... is all the retirees come in and they don't tax retirement. Our government lives on wage taxes," Zeigler said.

While new homes mean more real estate taxes, he said that only accounts for about $400,000 in a township budget of more than $6 million.

Zeigler expressed concern about the future of people born and raised in the area "because they can't afford a $300,000 house." Lifelong residents do not have the kind of income that retirees bring to the area, which could affect earned income tax revenues and the ability of local governments to provide services, he said.

The building boom is, however, supporting the construction employment.

"As long as interest rates stay where they are I think it's going to be much like it was in 2004," said Tom Hanks, the executive officer of the Franklin County Builders Association. "All our builders and remodelers seem very busy."

The association has about 450 members, said Hanks, and Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry figures show about 3,000 people in Franklin and Fulton counties are employed in the construction industry.

There was a jump in permits issued in June before Pennsylvania's uniform construction code, which requires more stringent inspections, went into effect. The number of single family dwelling permits hit 283, up from 106 the month before.

The greatest growth for housing was in the townships, according to county figures. In Greene Township, there were permits issued for 167 single family dwellings, 154 in Antrim Township, 145 in Hamilton Township and 105 in Washington Township.

Hanks said the construction boom should continue as long as interest rates remain low and people from Maryland and other states look to Pennsylvania for affordable housing.

"It isn't going to stop overnight," said Zeigler.

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