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Home construction slower than ever

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news Farmington, 55024

Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

When only 145 residential home building permits were issued by the end of last year, 2007 was tagged as the slowest year for building permits in recent years. That was before 2008.

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Six months into the year, Farmington building official Ken Lewis has logged only 27 residential building permits -- seven for multifamily units, 16 single family homes and four duplexes. City planner Lee Smick and assistant city planner Tony Wippler say it has been a year since any new housing units have even been platted.

The slowdown has caused Smick and Wippler to review the city's planned unit developments to see if zoning changes need to be made to any of the existing developments.

City code dictates that, in the absence of continued construction in a PUD, the planning commission and city council may review the PUDs and decide if zoning changes are needed. In some cases, that could mean the city would make the developer comply with original zoning district requirements that differ from any special arrangements that had been made as part of the PUD.

So far, Smick said, it looks as if the economy is to blame for the lack of housing construction in Farmington. Therefore, she does not suspect any zoning changes will be required.

"Nobody anticipated the economy's downturn," Smick said. "So far, we haven't heard any complaints, and we really don't anticipate any. Are (the developers) fulfilling their PUD requirements or not? We've got to look at the economy now."

One of the developments on the list is Sunrise Ponds, planned as a 56-lot development on Farmington's east side. Only nine homes have been built there, and that project seems to be in limbo now that its developer, MW Johnson, has declared bankruptcy.

The good news, though, is that when the economy does turn around, Smick and Wippler expect construction to pick up where they left off, for the most part.

"We have a surplus of lots available, so when the market does turn around, we're in a good position," Wippler said.

In the meantime

All this does not mean city building staff and planners have nothing to do these days. In fact, the timing seems to work out just fine.

There was a time, during the height of the city's residential construction boom in 2002-03, where Smick and Wippler were seeing multiple housing development plans come through weekly. Council meetings consisted of up to four developments being considered at a time. It kept planning staff plenty busy, leaving little time for other, necessary projects.

Now, Smick and Wippler are finding there is more time to do such projects -- the biggest of which is completing the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. As part of the Comp Plan process, they have to examine city ordinances, and build a work plan that lays out who will take care of what projects and when, as Farmington moves into the next few decades.

And though city staff are not seeing as many housing development applications come in, they are seeing an increase in additions to existing homes. Additionally, two commercial projects have started in 2008.

"We have things to keep us busy," Smick said. "We're just kind of waiting it out."

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