New single family home permits issued last year on the Vineyard soared 38 per cent over 2006, a rate of increase reminiscent of the building booms of the early 1980s and 1990’s.
The six Island towns approved construction of 227 single family homes in 2007, 61 homes more than 2006, records of town building inspectors and Martha’s Vineyard Commission show. Building inspectors, however, believe the large increase does not signify a trend but rather includes a year-end rush to beat 2008 building code changes, as well as the ability of the wealthy to build regardless of the state of the economy.
Islandwide, building-related permits rose almost two per cent to an 1,328 compared with 1,302 in 2006.
Island construction numbers compared well not only with the region’s plummeting building economy but also more locally with Nantucket, where new starts dropped 20 per cent last year and remodeling permits slumped about five per cent from 2006.
New home permits in 2007 on the Vineyard were the highest in four years. One hundred sixty six home building permits were issued in 2006, the lowest number in a quarter century.
Several Island building inspectors said a number of permits were filed in the last several weeks of 2007 to avoid changes in the 2008 building codes, representing applications that otherwise would have been filed in 2008.
The last-minute trend was clearly evident in West Tisbury.
“The thing that jumps out is that we had 27 new single family residences and 10 were done in the last week of the year to beat the new codes,” said Ernest P. Mendenhall, the West Tisbury building inspector.
“Otherwise we would have been equal or only slightly ahead (of 2006),” he said.
Mr. Mendenhall added: “The building code changes will not inhibit home construction. Houses will cost a little more and homeowners will get an improved product.”
Noting that larger houses are being built, Mr. Mendenhall said the values of new construction permits showed that home builders planned to spend 60 per cent more on building in 2007 than in 2006.
Edgartown was the busiest home building Island community last year. New home permits rose 40 per cent in Edgartown and 34 per cent in Oak Bluffs.
Year-to-year comparisons by town show Edgartown with 95 permits versus 57 in 2006, Oak Bluffs with 43 versus 32, Tisbury with 35 versus 33, West Tisbury with 27 versus 17 and Aquinnah with 9 new home permits versus 6 in 2006.
Chilmark issued 19 new home permits versus 18 in 2006, including one resident home site through a program that helps town residents become homeowners. Chilmark limits other new home construction permits to 18 per year.
In the eyes of Edgartown building inspector Leonard Jason Jr., residential building in Edgartown “won’t continue at this pace. It’s my sense that things have been quieting down recently.”
Mr. Jason said that the fast ferry from New Bedford and the early-morning Patriot boat from Falmouth, both often used by construction crews commuting from the mainland, have experienced a decline in ridership recently.
Land availability and price was a factor in 2007 and will continue to dictate home building on the Island, Mr. Jason and Mr. Mendenhall both said.
“We had 20 teardowns for rebuilds in 2007 compared with five in 2006. That’s a big number,” Mr. Jason said.
Tisbury recorded 13 demolitions, West Tisbury recorded six demolitions and Aquinnah recorded two in 2007, all more than in 2006.
“There is plenty of expensive land available, the problem is finding land for low and moderate-income people to build on,” Mr. Mendenhall mused.
Both men said that the price of land dictates house size as well. “Would you put a small house on a piece of land you paid $500,000 or $1 million for?” Mr. Jason asked.
At least 35 swimming pools were installed in 2007 with 13 in Edgartown and 10 in West Tisbury compared with one in 2006. Edgartown installed 20 pools in 2006.
While building inspectors still are analyzing permit subcategories such as additions, alterations and renovations, the 2007 raw numbers kept pace with the 349 permitted Islandwide in 2006.
Remodeling and additions did cost more. In Oak Bluffs, for example, permits for remodeling were down in 2007 but spending increased nearly 25 per cent to $27 million from $21.7 million in 2006, according to James E. Dunn, building department administrator and inspector in that town.