While a sluggish economy has slowed home-building throughout most of the state, Anne Arundel County has managed to avoid the pinch.

The number of home-building permits issued, a key barometer of the industry's health, nearly tripled in Anne Arundel during the first seven months of this year, to 3,741 from 1,268 during the same period last year, state planners report. The county's single-family home permits increased 29 percent, from 1,263 last year to 1,638 this year.

Statewide, by contrast, building permits for homes dipped 0.8 percent from 21,834 to 21,670. More notably, the number of applications for single-family homes, which accounted for the bulk of home building during the last decade, dropped by more than 12 percent, from 17,158 in 1989 to 15,078 this year, a state Office of Planning report shows.

State and county officials, explaining why Arundel has bucked statewide trends, point to the county's economic health and a western county building boom that will add more than 12,000 new homes. Permit applications for the 5,200-unit Seven Oaks, one of three massive developments planned, have begun to trickle in.

Also, officials say, multi-county builders trying to beat last year's deadline for a Howard County cap on home-building permits have shifted their attention back to Anne Arundel.

State planners view Maryland's homebuilding downturn as tangible evidence of a market in which "baby boomers" already own homes, fewer people look to new homes as investments and lenders have become less free with real estate loans.

"Every little burp in the economy seems to be reflected in the building permits," said Dennis McGee, state planning office spokesman.

"Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Howard counties have very healthy economies," McGee said. "The impact has not filtered down. Whether it will or not, I don't know."

Montgomery County, which issued 2,879 home-building permits last year, distributed 910 more this year. The number of permits has risen during the last few years in Howard County, but the county-imposed cap has cut last year's number by 2,451.

Anne Arundel County planners rely on numbers from Baltimore Regional Council of Governments rather than from the Bureau of Census, as state planners do. But county figures, similar to the state's, also suggest that building trends in Anne Arundel are running counter to statewide trends.

Still, tougher economic times have not left the county unmarred.

This year, developers are building fewer large, expensive homes, said Alexander Speer, county senior planner and demographer.

Last year, a home in Anne Arundel County cost an average of $147,905, he said. Speer had no current averages available, but he said developers have spent less so far this year to build new homes, which should pull the average down.

In the county and throughout the state, the number of applications for apartment units increased dramatically through the January to July period.

The majority came through in January, just before federal legislation aimed at improving handicapped access took effect.

But for those applications, which numbered 10 times the normal January rate, the statewide dip would have been significantly greater, planners believe.

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