Next weekend the streets will be crowded on the Vineyard, but these days it is the ladders and scaffolding that are standing room only. All around the Island the sounds of nail guns, classic rock and pickup trucks unloading supplies provide the backbeat for a flurry of construction activity. Building permits for new residential construction are on the rise once again this year.
The economic recession that started in 2008 hit the construction sector particularly hard. Since 2009, though, the numbers have shown steady improvement. Building permits in 2009 dropped to around 900. Last year they passed 1,500, an increase of nearly 70 per cent over four years. In West Tisbury alone, building permits rose by more than 400 per cent from 2009 to 2013.
Thus far in 2014, the pace of permits issued has outpaced 2013 in nearly all of the six Island towns. Construction is not where it was in the early 2000s, many builders said, but work has finally picked up again.
Additions and alterations make up the majority of new construction this year and last. Trends also point to an increase in building material sales at the Island’s lumber yards, especially in the green building market.
According to West Tisbury inspector Joseph Tierney Jr., there have been 94 permits filed this year. “That’s significantly higher than what we had last year,” Mr. Tierney told the Gazette.
Last year, for that same time period, West Tisbury issued 65 building permits.
On Wednesday, Mr. Tierney brought this information to the attention of West Tisbury selectmen and advocated to have the month of May become building safety month. He told the board that the high number of permits being issued means he and other inspectors have packed schedules and that they are busier than in past years.
In all of 2013 a total of 394 building permits were issued in West Tisbury, including 27 solar array permits, which Mr. Tierney said is “up 15 per cent from the previous year.” In 2009, 77 permits were issued.
Oak Bluffs is also experiencing an uptick in permits being issued. “We are really busy this time of year,” Oak Bluffs building inspector James E. Dunn said.
Oak Bluffs construction has been relatively steady, though, over the past five years. In 2009, a total of 301 permits were issued. In 2013, there were 326. So far in 2014, there have been 61 residential permits issued including seven new single family home permits, 21 for additions and renovations, one multi-family home permit and 32 minor accessory structures and minor structural improvements.
Permits in Edgartown have just about doubled in five years. In 2009, the town issued 264 permits. The number climbed to 521 in 2013. Between January and May of this year compared to the same period last year, there are more residential additions and renovations and nearly twice as many pools in Edgartown. Last year during the same time period, there were 13 single family homes, 31 additions and renovations and eight pool permits issued. Between January and May of this year, 13 new single family home permits were issued, 35 additions and renovation and 14 pools. “Everybody in Edgartown wants a pool,” said contractor and builder John G. Early. “It’s a value-added item, especially for residential rentals.”
Leonard Jason Jr., building inspector for Edgartown and Chilmark, said construction everywhere is on the rise.
“It’s been a good mix,” Mr. Jason said of new constructions and additions. “Houses are bigger, they take longer to build and people are buying sites rather than homes.”
The number of permits issued in Chilmark has also steadily increased over the past five years. In 2009, a total of 69 building permits were issued and in 2013 there were a total of 110.
Tisbury and Aquinnah have both noticed only a slight increase over the years. In Tisbury, the total number of residential building permits for 2009 was 172. For 2013, it was 175. Year to date, Tisbury has issued 76 building permits compared to 74 issued by this time last year.
Aquinnah issued 10 permits in 2009 and 15 building permits in 2013. So far this year Aquinnah has issued four building permits.
Island lumber yards are also seeing an uptick in home-construction activity.
“Right now it feels like we’re booming again,” said Mike Hebert, manager of E.C. Cottle Inc. He said it had been at least five or six years since business was like this. “It’s a busy time of year but we’ve been really busy. Roof shingles, framing stock, plywood — it’s hard to keep up with the demand right now.”
On Wednesday at noon, the parking lot was full outside the lumber yard of H.N. Hinckley & Sons, Inc. on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. Owner Wayne Guyther told the Gazette that his business has already sold a great deal of lumber and other building supplies this year.
“There’s a positive trend in the works,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of new products the last several years, no big trends have stood out, but a bunch of new products have been sold.”
Mr. Guyther added that newer products are in higher demand, but so are shingles.
“We’ve always sold shingles, as in asphalt roof shingles, but we’ve grown as a business and we’re selling more things,” he said.
Five years ago, Mr. Guyther said he would not have been so positive. “There’s a lot more optimism out there.”
Hinckley’s has also sold a lot of white cedar sidewalk shingles, which cost anywhere from $180 to $210 per square foot. Big sellers are earth-friendly products, which are relatively new.
“Everybody is leaning towards the same types of green products,” said Greg Monka, sales manager at Hinckley’s.
John Abrams, founder of the South Mountain Company which specializes in environmentally sound building techniques, said there’s been a shift in consumer consciousness.
“People are investing differently,” Mr. Abrams said. “There’s much more interest in smaller, high performance and longterm durability. I feel like there’s more interest and awareness about the scale of what people are doing.”
“There’s less need for education and a greater awareness on the part of our clients,” he added. “Its nice when you’re not pushing, they’re pushing.”