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Multi-family projects dominate

Construction in Oak Harbor has shifted from the slew of single-family resident permits issued from 2003 to 2005 to more multi-family and commercial permits in 2006 and through May of this year.

Single-family resident permits topped out at 184 in 2004, followed by 147 in 2005 and a mere 105 last year. Twenty-two permits have been issued through May.

Conversely, in those same three years when single-family residence permits were a hot commodity, no apartment permits were issued. However, last year saw permits for 50 new apartment units granted and permits for 44 new units this year.

“We’re seeing more of an emphasis on multi-family units,” said Steve Powers, Oak Harbor Development Services director. The new apartment trend is representative of infill, he added. “We’re seeing properties that were skipped over before now being developments.” Land use laws encourage infilling before growth boundaries are extended.

In 2002 and 2003, permits for duplexes and other multi-family units increased. The current boom in apartments accommodates a larger number of residents.

“We’re seeing a higher density now,” Powers said.

The shift could translate to more affordable housing, or at least more of a selection.

“With a range of housing types, it’s logical to think there’s a range of housing prices,” Powers said.

Commercial projects jump

The most notable changes have taken place in the number of commercial permits issued. Only seven commercial or non-residential permits were issued in 2002 for total valuation of $887,000. In stark contrast, 29 commercial or non-residential permits were issued in 2006 to the tune of $6.2 million and six have already been secured this year at a total of $5.4 million.

“Those are the most significant and the most visible,” Powers said. “We’ve got a lot going on.”

Construction and yearly trends are cyclical in nature, the development services director said. The housing market in general has an influence, as do interest rates and the time that elapses between plans to build a subdivision and the actual permitting process.

“Permitting is on an 18 to 24-month cycle, by and large,” Powers said. Projects are often staggered, which affects the yearly numbers.

In Island County, although the number of county building permits issued through May is up overall from this time last year, new construction has been tapering off.

“Overall, housing for the last two years has been slowing down slightly,” said Andy Griffin, Island County building official.

Single-family residences in 2006 through May totaled 161, compared to 127 this year. Commercial permits through May last year were double what they are currently, 67 permits compared to 30.

“We had one project last year that generated a lot of building permits,” Griffin said as an explanation for the discrepancy.

Economics has played a major role in the construction slowdown, the building official added.

“When interest rates were down, it was going crazy,” he said.

Based on inspections, Greenbank and Freeland have emerged as the construction hot spots. Island County Planning and Community Development typically runs two inspectors. With the boom on Central Whidbey, they have added a third inspector to pick up the slack.

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