In April 2018, Lake County Building and Land Use processed eight building permits. In April of this year, the department reviewed 38 building permits.
The nearly 500-percent increase in building-permit submittals is partly due to the 2018 merger of the city and county building departments. It is also due to an uptick in development in Lake County.
Building inspections, dwelling-unit and ancillary permits and subdivision applications are also up from last year. Three subdivisions: the Railyard at Leadville, Gateway Village and Westwoods, are all currently in the works for the city and county.
According to Building and Land Use Director Paul Clarkson, the city usually receives about half to two-thirds the amount of building permits as the county.
This year, building permits submitted within county and city limits are about equal. And due to second-floor apartment rehabilitation along Harrison Avenue and other projects, the city is currently outpacing the county for dwelling-unit permit submittals 28 to seven.
When Clarkson asked his three-person staff how they were keeping up with their workload earlier this month, they sardonically answered, “We’re not.” A backlog of permits, development review, and long-term projects including code modernization, affordable housing policy and water administration has caused delays at the department that no one likes to see.
“Our morale is still good but we have to admit that it [the workload] does get to be challenging,” Clarkson said. “We do try to get everyone pretty much what they want within the confines of the regulations but we are now finding that we don’t have as much time to understand and address everyone’s individual situation.”
Clarkson feels that his department must now be more bureaucratic; the office is no longer able to guide individuals through the permitting processes as it has been known to do in the past.
Though the director might need to add staff soon, he is hesitant to do so without knowing what 2020 will bring. “It’s a balancing act,” Clarkson told the Herald. “We don’t know if this is a trend or just a spike.”
Local contractors are also feeling the pressure.
Matt Bullock, of Bullock Construction, used to build one or two houses a year. This year, Bullock said he will build four or five new homes, in addition to a variety of remodel and accessory-dwelling- unit projects.
Bullock, who employs five people full-time, said he needs more employees and capable subcontractors in order to keep up with demand. Finding labor is difficult, Bullock noted, as many construction workers drive over the hill for higher wages.
If local contractor Jack Saunders wanted to expand, he said he could easily do so. The county’s development pressure has instead led Saunders to become pickier when accepting project inquiries.
“I believe the future is solid for small contractors,”said Saunders, who primarily builds for second-home owners.
“Change is on the way,” Bullock said. “We are going from a bedroom community to a community of second-home owners.”
According to Economic Planning Systems’ housing-needs assessment, the average sale prices of homes in Lake County has risen $30,370, or about 12 percent, since 2015. Houses are flying off the market despite price increases.
“If priced correctly, houses under $300,000 are under contract within a few days to a week,” Centennial Real Estate owner Carol Glenn told the Herald.
Heather Lindh, of RE/MAX Aspen Leaf Realty, provided similar statistics and noted that the city and West Park have seen both the greatest price increases and sales in 2019.
Given Colorado’s continued growth, Lindh believes Leadville’s housing market will continue to grow, though at a more gradual pace than in recent years.
“My crystal ball broke a long time ago as to when a market slow-down will be,” Glenn joked.
“Development is now a new watchword for the region,” Clarkson told the Herald earlier this month. “Lake County hasn’t benefited, or suffered, from growth as some of our neighboring counties have.”
The good news? Now that development has arrived, Lake County can learn from the past mistakes and current development challenges facing surrounding counties before it's too late, Clarkson said.