Planners at the City of Mercer Island are seeing what many are hoping is a positive sign of a return to a better economy.
The number of building permits and pre-permit application conferences for Island construction projects has jumped.
Director of the Development Services Group (DSG), Scott Greenberg, calls the trend something else: “The new normal,” he said.
Greenberg asked for and received an additional $200,000 to add staff to the development services group to handle the requests.
It is money well spent. More building activity means more permit fees and revenue for the city.
Greenberg told the City Council on June 3 that his group has been experiencing a substantial and unplanned increase in development activity. Staff resources to handle the load were inadequate, he said.
The approved funding will add two temporary positions to the staff. One will be a temporary, full-time planner, and the other will be an on-call plan reviewer and inspector.
Greenberg said he expects that one or both of these positions may need to become permanent.
The activity has ramped up considerably since mid-October last year, he told the Reporter.
Through April 2013, new single family permits are at their highest level of the past four years. For the first four months of 2013, 25-plus permits were processed with the city — more than all of 2012.
City planners expect that amount to double by the end of the year, to more than 50. City data shows that the number of new home construction permits fell to just 12 in 2009 before inching up to 25 in both 2011 and 2012.
Also, the city is working with developers for subdivisions and short plats totaling 83 lots that will be developed over the next few years. “This was an astonishing number for me,” Greenberg said.
The number of pre-application meetings with builders has also grown dramatically in the past few months.
Greenberg has been a city building official for more than 30 years.
“Mercer Island has more pre-application meetings than any other city I have worked for,” he said. “And that is a good thing. It means that the builder knows exactly what he needs to do before he begins.”
After about 60 of those meetings between January and April this year, Greenberg expects that the number of those encounters will reach more than 200 by year’s end.