Building permits issued in Jan. lowest since '82


In January, residential building permits in metropolitan Baltimore fell to their lowest level since the recession year of 1982, according to a report by the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

Building permits for single-family homes fell 34 percent, the council reported.

The number of permits for apartment and condominium construction fell even more -- by 98 percent. But the council said that dip was a statistical blip because an exceptionally high number of those permits were issued in January 1990.

The report appears to confirm that Baltimore's real estate market, at least in new construction, hasn't yet begun its long-awaited turnaround. The number of permits for single-family homes, including town houses, declined in every county in the area as well as in Baltimore City, the council report said.

"We're following generally the regional and national trends," said Mary Jane Rutkowski, a planner for the council. "It's pretty indicative of a recession."

But George Shehan, a partner in American Landmark Homes and president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said the fall in permits doesn't mean the new home market is headed for a cliff.

"The first thing that needs to be said is that these permits reflect sales three to five months prior," Mr. Shehan said. Permits lag in a slow market because builders won't risk building a home until the buyer has been approved for a mortgage and has sold his or her previous home, Mr. Shehan said, adding, "Builders aren't going to speculate in this market."

The number of permits issued should turn up in the next few months because construction is a seasonal business that's slow during the winter months, Ms. Rutkowski said. But the upturn may not be enough to return the construction industry to the robust health it enjoyed during much of the 1980s, she added.

Anne Arundel County reported the largest drop in single-family permits, approving only 104 permits compared with 176 in January 1990, for a 40.9 percent drop.

Harford County was close behind, falling 39.5 percent to 68 permits. Baltimore County's single-family permits fell 29.1 percent, to 168 permits.

Carroll County permits dropped 37.6 percent, to 48 permits. Howard County, affected in 1990 by a growth-control ordinance that capped the allowable number of building permits, posted the smallest decrease at 9.7 percent, or seven permits.

January is normally one of the slower months of the year for building permits. The homebuilders' best selling season is the spring and construction is usually concentrated in the warmer months.

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