Franklin County, Pa. building permits sharply down since 2006

March 03, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
By Chad Trovinger/Graphic Artist

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Home building continued to plummet in Franklin County, Pa., in 2011, leaving the county with 179 new residential buildings by year’s end.

The Franklin County Planning Department recently released information about building permits and approved lots.

According to its data, the county issued 179 permits in 2011, compared with 1,257 in 2006. Franklin County experienced a housing boom about five years ago, with some calling it the “Mason-Dixon Challenge” as people who work in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas moved north.

That growth stalled as the first decade closed and the new one started in the midst of a recession.

In Washington Township, Pa., permits were issued for 13 new living units in 2011. That number is the lowest in Township Manager Mike Christopher’s 34 years on the job, including 1981, when 27 homes were permitted.

Just one land-use permit for a new house has been issued in 2012.

“There are still inquiries, but they’re not for new houses,” Christopher said.

Today’s permits are for things such as enclosed porches, decks, carports, barns and roofs, he said.

The lack of new home construction affects township revenues for building and occupancy permits, subdivision and septic fees, and costs to file land-development plans. Perhaps the biggest effects are for recreation fees that support the municipal parks system and traffic impact fees, which were supposed to fund development of a multimillion-dollar relief route north of town.

About 4,000 lots remain in limbo in various stages of Washington Township’s approval process, ranging from sketch plans to preliminary and final approval.

Ronnie Martin, a Waynesboro-based Realtor and developer, said short sales and foreclosures are driving down the costs of all homes for sale. The average buyer, he said, is looking to spend no more than $1,000 a month for principal, interest, taxes and insurance.

That means the typical buyer is looking to spend $130,000 to $170,000 on the home, Martin said.

The popularity of town houses in Franklin County declined when the Uniform Construction Code in Pennsylvania started requiring sprinkler systems in buildings with three or more units, Martin said.

“The problem is we’re not doing very well with the new law requiring sprinkler systems, which cost $5,000 a unit. That’s all the profit,” Martin said.

“You can’t absorb the cost, so we shut down and aren’t building anything,” he said.

Tom Hanks, executive director of the Franklin County Builders Association, worries increased gas prices will affect contractors traveling for work, plus they will affect the cost of construction materials.

“The economy needs to turn around. ... A lot of (contractors) are sole proprietors, so they can’t draw unemployment,” he said.

Contractors who previously built new houses are now remodeling kitchens or repairing roofs, Hanks said.

People “are fixing up their house instead of trying to sell it and move into a new house,” he said.

Martin said one bright spot this year could be job-creating businesses opening in Franklin County.

“Commercial development is starting to show signs of an uptick,” he said.

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