Maybe a new streak is about to begin.
Last year at this time we were reporting how the Lawrence homebuilding industry had hit a new low. In 2011, Lawrence builders saw their streak of at least 55 years in a row of building 100 homes or more snapped. Builders started just 95 single-family homes in Lawrence in 2011.
Well, the old hammer had a little bounce back in 2012. Almost 95 percent of the time when a hammer bounces back, it involves a large bandage on my forehead. But this time a bounce back is good. Builders in 2012 started 123 single-family building permits.
In fact, the 123 housing starts is the second highest total in the last five years. The city had dipped to 102 single-family housing starts in 2008, and 110 in 2009. The only year the homebuilding industry seemed to have any positive momentum was in 2010, when a first-time homebuyers credit helped perk the market up temporarily. The city had 146 single-family housing starts that year.
The last five years have been kind of like a two-by-four to the head for most homebuilders. (That reminds me of another home improvement project I did once, but for some reason, I’m hazy on the details.) The city used to routinely be near 300 single-family housing permits per year, and on a few occasions topped the 400 level. Those days are gone, but nobody is ready to concede yet that 100 to 125 housing starts per year is the new normal for Lawrence.
What 2013 brings for the industry will be interesting to watch. I would think this is the year that builders may believe they can get back to that level of 150 housing starts in a year. If somehow they could get to 200, everybody would breath a lot easier.
As for other numbers from the city’s 2012 building permit report, here’s a look:
• The city issued permits for $100.65 million worth of projects in 2012. That’s down from $107.76 million in 2011.
• One category of projects that saw a bump in 2012: Projects funded with public money. The city issued building permits for $8.97 million worth of publicly funded construction projects. That’s up from $7.96 million in 2011. Those projects can be projects funded with city tax dollars, construction at Lawrence Memorial Hospital or other smaller projects by government agencies. Generally, the project must involve some type of structure in order for it receive a building permit. The category, for example, doesn’t include road projects or waterline work. Indeed, the second largest project of the year was a publicly funded one: A $4.8 million permit for the new parking garage that will be next to the expanded Lawrence Public Library.
• The city issued permits for 184 apartment units in 2012, down from 355 in 2011. Two of the five largest dollar projects in the city, however, were apartment projects in 2011 — the Westfield Place Apartments in the 200 block of Eisenhower Drive, and the Varsity House Apartments in the Oread neighborhood.
• Permits for remodeling projects, both commercial and residential, grew in 2012. The city issued 345 remodeling permits, up from 317 in 2011.
• Even though the total value of projects constructed in Lawrence was down for the year, the city saw a slight increase in the amount of building permit fees in collected in 2012. That’s in large part because the city saw an increase in the total number of permits applied for during the year. The city collected $735,564 in building permit fees, up from $705,173 in 2011.
There were 17 building projects in the city that had a value of $1 million or more in 2012. Here’s a look:
• Westfield Place Apartments, 204 Eisenhower Drive: $8.32 million
• Public Parking Garage, 707 Vermont St.: $4.8 million
• Theatre Lawrence building, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive: $4 million
• Varsity House Apartments, 1043 Indiana St.: $3.98 million
• Del Monte Addition, 727 N. Iowa St.: $1.9 million
• Briggs Dodge remodel, 2300 W. 29th Terrace: $1.64 million
• LMH North Wing remodel, 325 Maine: $1.5 million
• Raintree Montessori School addition, 4601 Clinton Parkway: $1.4 million
• Hy-Vee convenience store, 3900 W. 24th Place: $1.4 million
• Advantage Metal Recycling, 1545 N. Third St.: $1.3 million
• Retail shell building for Papa Murphy’s and others, 650 Congressional Drive: $1.3 million
• Kia of Lawrence addition, 1225 E. 23rd St.: $1.25 million
• Briggs Nissan, 2300 W. 29th Terrace: $1.2 million
• Single-family dwelling, 1714 Lake Alvamar Drive: $1.1 million
• Single-family dwelling, 133 Running Ridge Road: $1 million
• Retail shell building for Starbucks and others, 4701 Bauer Farm Drive: $1 million.
• St. John School addition, 1208 Kentucky St.: $1 million.
Temporary closure of 15th/Bob Billings Parkway this summer upsets neighbors; city proposes new detour in hopes of alleviating concerns
We’ve been telling you for awhile now that the area near 15th and Iowa streets is going to be a mess for a good part of 2013. Well, it looks like the mess is going to spread into City Hall tonight.
As we have reported in the past, Iowa Street from about Harvard Road to the Irving Hill Road overpass is set to get rebuilt in 2013. The project, which has lingered in the planning stages for almost three years, has mainly focused on rebuilding Iowa Street and adding a center turn lane.
But the $6.5 million project also includes significant improvements to the intersection of Iowa Street and Bob Billings Parkway/15th Street. As we have previously reported, the construction plan for the project includes closing 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway for several hundred feet on both sides of Iowa Street. In other words, you won’t be able to turn off Iowa Street onto Bob Billings to the west or 15th Street to the east, and vice versa. Iowa Street will have one lane of traffic open in each direction.
The entire project is expected to last from February through November, but the city is estimating that 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway will be closed from May 20 to Aug. 16.
That part of the project seems to be catching some neighbors by surprise. I talked to Lawrence resident Nelson Krueger who lives in the neighborhood, and it sure sounds like there will be a push made at tonight’s City Commission meeting to get commissioners to leave the intersection fully open.
But city engineers are warning that such a change this late in the game is going to cause multiple delays to the project. Chuck Soules, director of public works for the city, told me the Kansas Department of Transportation — remember that Iowa Street is also U.S. Highway 59 — is scheduled to be advertised for bid on Wednesday, with bid openings on Jan. 17.
If Bob Billings/15th Street had to remain open during construction, KDOT has indicated it will pull the project from the January bid letting schedule. Soules said that means the start of the project likely would be pushed back by three to four months — it is scheduled to begin in February — and total length of the project would be increased by four months because it will take longer to do the construction work while traffic continues in the area. All told, that means more of the project will happen during Kansas University’s school year.
The city also is predicting that motorists on Iowa Street will see significantly longer delays if the intersection is left open. The key here is that Iowa Street will only have one lane in each direction. If the intersection is closed, the city can remove the traffic signal and keep traffic continuously moving through the construction zone. But if the intersection remains open, the traffic signal will have to remain in place, and with just one lane of traffic, vehicles are predicted to back up for long distances in both directions. Soules told me he can envision traffic backing up through the 19th Street intersection and close to 23rd Street.
The city probably did not help itself by officially designating the detour for the project as Sixth Street to Kasold or Clinton Parkway to Kasold. That will take motorists a long distance out of their way to get to Bob Billings Parkway.
As opposition has grown, however, the city has shifted its detour plan. Soules confirmed to me this morning that he has gotten permission from KU to use several West Campus streets as the official detour for the project. The plan is motorists could turn west at the 19th and Iowa intersection and go through the West Campus streets that run by the Lied Center and the Dole Institute of Politics and then re-enter Bob Billings Parkway at Crestline Drive.
Soules said the city always assumed that would be a de facto detour for motorists, but since those streets are maintained by KU, it needed the university’s permission before signs were put up to declare it the official detour.
We’ll see if that shorter detour makes neighbors happier.
Neighbors — led by Krueger and a few businesses along Bob Billings Parkway — have put together a presentation arguing that closing the intersection will hurt a whole host of businesses.
I received a copy of the presentation this morning, and the neighbors contend there are 2,000 residents in single-family homes and apartment complexes — the large Meadowbrook Apartment Complex is just west of the intersection — that will be impacted. The intersection will be closed during the critical time period of late July and early August when new residents are moving into the apartment complexes.
In addition, the shopping center at Bob Billings and Kasold stands to lose significant business, Krueger argues, because that is when many of those businesses establish relationships with those new residents.
Krueger also contends the city didn’t do enough to notify residents west of Iowa Street about the project. Soules said the city did send out notices to residents, but he said the notification did not stretch all the way to Kasold Drive.
City commissioners will get to sort it all out at their meeting tonight, which begins at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been experiencing building permit withdrawal symptoms. Since about June, I’ve been unable to report any new building permit data for you because the city was having some issues with its new permit software and its ability to print reports.
(I’m assuming that is why I’ve had occasional sleepwalking bouts where I end up in my shop with a hammer and a mangled 2X4, but perhaps something else is going on there.)
Regardless, the city has gotten its report issue fixed, and we have new data to share. And for once, there is some good news in it for Lawrence homebuilders.
Through November, homebuilding activity is up about 27 percent compared to the same period a year ago. In fact, the number of single-family and duplex homes are at their second highest total since 2008.
The city has issued permits for 124 single-family or duplex projects, up from 97 in 2011. The 2012 numbers still trail the 157 permits issued during the same time period in 2010, but that was back when builders thought the first-time homebuyers credit had turned the market around. Interestingly, the 2012 numbers are ahead of the 2008 numbers, which is back before the national economy turned sour.
If November is any indication, builders are finishing the year with some momentum. The city issued 15 permits for single-family and duplex construction, which is more than double the average of 5.25 permits for the previous four years. (I feel for that guy who got the 0.25 of a house.)
When you look at the total construction picture in Lawrence — residential plus commercial — the numbers aren’t quite as good. Through November, the city has issued permits totaling $92.68 million, which is down about 14 percent from the same period a year ago. The $92 million mark of this year is still the fourth lowest total of the last five years, coming in ahead of only the dismal 2009 season.
But again, builders had some momentum in November. The city issued permits for $10.01 million worth of projects during the month, including three commercial projects valued at $1 million or more. They were: $1.645 million for the new Briggs Dodge building at 2300 W. 29th Terrace; $1.304 million for a new metal salvage building for Advantage Metal Recycling at 1545 N. Third St.; and $1.304 million for a classroom addition at the St. John School at 1208 Kentucky St.
So far in 2012, the city has issued 16 permits valued at $1 million or more. The other projects are:
• $8.325 million for Westfield Place Apartments, 204 Eisenhower Drive.
• $4 million for the Lawrence Community Theatre, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive.
• $3.986 million for the Varsity House Apartments, 1043 Indiana St.
• $1.9 million for an addition to the Del Monte pet food plant, 727 N. Iowa St.
• $1.5 million for the Lawrence Memorial Hospital North Wing remodel.
• $1.4 million for Raintree Montessori School addition, 4601 Clinton Parkway.
• $1.4 million for the Hy-Vee C-Store, 3900 W. 24th Place.
• $1.3 million for a retail shell building that will house a Papa Murphy’s, a credit union and other tenants at 650 Congressional Drive.
• $1.235 million for a remodel of the Kia dealership, 1225 E. 23rd St.
• $1.2 million for a new Briggs Nissan dealership 2300 W. 29th Terrace.
• $1.1 million for a single-family dwelling at 1714 Lake Alvamar Drive.
• $1 million for a single-family dwelling at 133 Running Ridge Road.
• $1 million for a retail shell building at 4701 Bauer Farm Drive.
Those aren’t bad numbers considering that in future months there will be another $18 million in construction for the Lawrence Public Library project; $10 million-plus for a pair of multistory buildings at Ninth and New Hampshire streets; and perhaps $25 million for a new recreation center in northwest Lawrence.