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Confidence climbs: Building permits steady in Lee, Cape

July 3, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Building permits for single-family homes rose slightly in June in unincorporated Lee County, a further sign that home construction is back on the rise.

In Cape Coral, things are in flux as contractors are getting plans together and finishing up long overdue projects, with the knowledge that homebuyers are looking for more modest luxury.

Over the past year, building permits in unincorporated Lee County have held steady. June numbers bested the 88 permits pulled in May and the 94 pulled in June 2013.

In Cape Coral, 48 permits were pulled for residential, down from 56 in May. Two hundred and eighty-four have been pulled since the beginning of the year, which is on pace to better the 506 permits pulled for all of 2013, according to the city's building permits and contractor reports.

Joan LaGuardia, Lee County Community Development spokesperson, said people should see this as a sign Lee County continues to grow at a gradual pace.

"The good news is we're out of the uncertainty. We're not seeing the peaks and valleys," LaGuardia said. "We're seeing a lot of the big contractors are finishing the phases of developments they couldn't complete once the recession got started."

Matt Sinclair, owner of Sinclair Homes in Cape Coral, said there is a lot in the planning stages currently, with more focus on "dry" lots, as opposed to gulf-access sites that garnered strong interest last year.

"The gulf-access lots went up so fast in the last year that they went to the dry lots because you don't want the taxes and everyone is following suit," Sinclair said. "Now, you're seeing dry lot prices almost double from last year."

Sinclair said he expects in the next year for fresh water lots to become the hot commodity, following the same trend as before.

Sinclair has been building affordable luxury and the custom homes with the cost value driven by location.

"The lots are governing what the values are and, on top of that, we have an increase in materials and labor because it's hard to find labor here," Sinclair said. "Everything feels like it's in demand."

Irina Prell, owner of Elysium Homes, said she has seen a switch from extravagance to more budget-minded homes, especially for those hit hard after the economic downturn and in areas where lots are value priced.

"We are still building in the higher-end niche, but we have seen more customers who are looking in the $300,000 range," Prell said. "Before it was 10 percent of our customers in that price range. Now, it's more like 60 to 70 percent, so we are responding to the demand and creating more value-priced products."

Prell said she also is seeing a run toward dry lots, as prices of waterfront lots rose too quickly to support normal growth.

"Demand is high and supply is limited. That's why not many people are shopping for them," Prell said. "People are starting to invest in them because that's the attraction of being here. Also, many foreign buyers are coming, buying waterfront lots, building and renting them out."

In unincorporated Lee, contractors pulled permits to build single-family houses collectively valued at more than $21.5 million.

Also during June, 83 multi-family units were permitted, compared to 173 in May and 29 this time last year. These include a 65-unit apartment building, part of the Palazzo Del Sol development on Pamplona Run, southwest of McGregor Boulevard and Pine Ridge Road.

General commercial activity was valued at more than $5.3 million for 26 permits, compared to nearly $15 million in May and $8.5 million last year. June's commercial permits included an out-parceled Chili's restaurant at the Gulf Coast Town Center.

The question remains: Is there anything new in the pipeline?

"That will be the next phase of our economic development, I think," LaGuardia said.

"We're in transition right now. If the economy keeps going the way it is and interest rates stay down, I think things will be in an upswing," Sinclair said.

"We're in a good place. We're positioned for growth and comfortable where we're at," Prell said.

Moe Beneke, executive director of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, said she likes what she sees, and that's a slow, steady growth.

"As an industry, we're happy. It's a nice, steady increase. You couldn't ask for more," Beneke said. "We're not at either end of the spectrum or where the bubble bursts next week. We're busy but not overwhelmed."

Lee County Community Development oversees planning, zoning, development and building services, environmental review, building inspection, and code enforcement for the unincorporated areas of Lee County.



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