Hillsborough residential permits take dive

Building permits are down by half from the high of 2005. The drop is bigger outside cities.

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer
Published March 11, 2008

TAMPA - Residential building permits in Hillsborough County dipped to a seven-year low in 2007, with suburbs taking the brunt of the slowdown, planners reported Monday.

Just over 8,000 permits were issued countywide last year. That's less than half the number issued in 2005, a record year, according to the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission.

Unincorporated Hillsborough showed a 55 percent decrease in permits when compared with 2006. The city of Tampa fared better, with a 14 percent drop. The majority of the permits issued in the city were for multi-family projects.

Mark Huey, the city's manager of economic development, said urban growth is less likely to fluctuate than suburban growth.

"Because the city is so land constrained, you didn't have the same level of overbuilding occurring in the city that you did in the county," he said.

Rising gas prices and stricter standards to qualify for mortgages may also be reasons the residential market is healthier in the city than in suburban areas, said Metrostudy housing analyst Tony Polito.

"We're seeing people who would have bought two or three years ago are renting closer to the urban base," he said.

That keeps them near jobs and cuts down on the cost of gas and tolls, he said.

The overall county numbers are nothing to fret about, said Joseph Narkiewicz, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association.

"This is purely a market adjustment," he said.

After the record high of 2005, it's appropriate that the numbers would decline as supply and demand come into balance, he said.

"Even right now, builders are talking to developers about more lots getting back into the markets. Traffic is up in the model centers, sales are up," he said.

The slowdown left a mark on the county's building permit division, which cut operating hours last year to save money. The division runs on fees collected for permits, and revenue declined sharply because of the housing slump.

Land use attorney Vin Marchetti said the county's numbers would probably look better if it were easier to get a permit.

"In the county, there are a lot of projects that are being held up on transportation concurrency issues," he said. "I'm representing several clients that have been held up for extended periods of time: a year, a year and a half."

The county's nonresidential permit activity has been stable, according to the Planning Commission.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.