City building permits up
If you want to get a feel for how much construction activity is going on in High Point, don’t look for red dirt being moved around.
The key way to measure this critical economic indicator lies in records at City Hall, where officials report the number of plans submitted and permits awarded for residential and commercial projects is on the rise.
Through the first half of 2013, 161 homes were permitted in the city, compared to 106 during the same period of 2012. From January through June, 1,590 commercial permits were issued, up from 1,346 during the first half of 2012.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in construction activity,” said High Point Planning and Development Director Lee Burnette.
The uptick is not surprising, as the recovery of the housing market has been well documented. The city also typically sees a steady stream of commercial permits tied to High Point Market showroom work.
The city is trying to facilitate the trend by speeding up the permitting process where it can, in advance of a major upgrade coming next year in the form of a new software system that is widely expected to streamline things.
The city’s goal for the time it takes to get a plan reviewed for a residential project is five business days.
Through the first half of the year, the city reported 210 residential plan reviews, with an average permit-ready time of 7.4 business days. City Councilman Jim Davis, a homebuilder, said he believes one phase of this process is unnecessary — residential plan review. Most large cities in North Carolina have this layer of approval, with Winston-Salem being the primary exception.
“As a builder, I don’t think we need a residential plan review at all, and I’ve said that many times,” he said. “When you have a master residential plan that’s already in the system, why should that builder have to go through plan review? He should be able to walk down (to City Hall) and get his permit that day, because that’s already in the system. I think that would speed up the process.”
Davis said this is particularly important with residential additions. Davidson County, he said, has a system that allows for fast turnaround.
“If you’ve got all your homework done, you get your permit, 20 minutes you’re out the door,” Davis said.
When it comes to commercial plans, the city’s average permit-ready time for the 299 plan submittals that came in through the first six months of the year was 14.3 business days.
The uptick in commercial permits comes in spite of what city officials described as a new policy of International Market Centers, the company that owns a majority of market showroom space.
IMC now requires all contractors to get permits for showroom remodeling work, much of which was done in the past without bureaucratic approval.
“It used to be that some showrooms could hire their buddy or brother-in-law or whoever to come in and paint and fix up the showroom and remodel it. IMC decided their policy is, we will not allow that anymore,” said City Manager Strib Boynton. “They won’t let anybody in their properties do any work unless they have permits that meet the state code. They said, ‘We want to protect our assets, and we want to protect our property from any sort of liability from visitors who will be in the showrooms during the market.’”
Boynton said this has slowed things down some, but the hope is that complaints will subside as contractors learn about the new policy and get their plans together in advance.
“I think what we’re trying to get across is, we’re trying to expedite this as fast as we can with limited resources,” he said.
Burnette said the new software and hardware for his department’s upgrade has been installed, and that the new system will be online by June 30, 2014.
“It will implement a variety of streamlining measures,” he said. “The intent is that everything we offer as walkup service will be available online. I don’t know of another city in North Carolina that does that.”