Homebuilding up in Havre de Grace, steady elsewhere in Harford

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For the last two months, the city of Havre de Grace has been issuing building permits for new homes at a rate of one every other day, the city’s planning director said last week.

While building may be picking up in that part of Harford County, it’s remained relatively stable elsewhere, according to figures provided by local officials.

“The key number that struck me is that, over the last two months, there has been one housing start every two days,” Ben Martorana, director of planning for Havre de Grace, said. “That was really significant.”

The city has issued 29 permits in the first two quarters of this fiscal year, which started July 1.

At the Sept. 5 City Council meeting, city Administrator Patrick Sypolt told council members that with a month left in the first quarter of the fiscal year, the number of permits was already 32 percent higher than the number of permits issued for the entire first quarter of the previous fiscal year.

Homes are being built in Bulle Rock, Scenic Manor and Greenway Farms, Martorana said.

“Development had been pretty quiet but it’s starting to pick up in terms of residential neighborhoods,” he said.

The stock of unsold properties is pretty much diminished or gone, Martorana said. There’s not a lot of unsold inventory in the market in terms of resales.

“New home construction is picking up because there’s not a lot of resale, comparatively so,” he said.

Havre de Grace is seeing a boom in new home construction because people “are starting to see what a great place Havre de Grace is to live in, to shop, to just be here,” Martorana said.

He used First Fridays in the city as an example, noting the difference in attendance this year versus the last few years.

“It’s a great turnout,” he said.

Builders are also turning out new houses quickly, which buyers like, he said.

“Delivering homes quickly, that’s a key. I think builders have seen that,” Martorana said.

He cautioned that it might not last.

“We don’t know how long we’ll see that sustained,” he said.

In Harford County, outside the municipalities, new home construction is on pace with last year. As of Aug. 31, Harford had issued 436 building permits, including 188 for single-family houses and 106 for townhouses.

By the end of August 2016, Harford had issued 433 permits, including 170 single-family houses and 134 townhouses.

This year, 138 permits were issued for apartments — all of them in May. In 2016, 126 permits were issued for apartments, but they were spread out over March (30), April (24), May (48) and July (24).

Overall in Harford, there is not an overabundance of resale homes, Katrina Bartos, director of sales and marketing for Lennar Corporation, said.

Lennar is building four communities in Harford — Bulle Rock, Colvard’s Choice, Sandy Ridge and Hamilton Reserve.

Only about a half-dozen houses are left in Colvard’s Choice in the Forest Hill area, and in Sandy Ridge on Route 543 near C. Milton Wright High School. Construction started recently on Hamilton Reserve, where about 50 houses are expected to be built.

“We are not seeing a robust number of resales,” Bartos said. “I think that’s because home values are still recovering. People are holding on to their homes longer than maybe they would otherwise.”

What Lennar is experiencing is more people entering the home market for the first time, including people who are moving up from smaller homes as well as people who have rented all their lives.

“It’s a first-time buyers’ market, but not the same first-time buyer that you would think,” she said.

Lennar can supply the move-up buyer looking for his or her dream home, like in Colvard’s Choice, or the move-down buyer looking for a house with the same amount of space but everything they need on one floor.

That’s a lot of what’s being built at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, she said.

Buyers want the master bedroom on the first floor with everything else.

“They’re tired of climbing the stairs. They want to stay in their house for many more years to come, but the they don’t want to get rid of the space,” Bartos said. “They still want family over and bedrooms for the grandkids, but they want to be on the main floor.”

Year over year sales for Lennar, which entered the Harford County home building market when it bought Barry Andrews Homes, have increased, as have the number of settlements, Bartos said.

“We will continue to pursue land opportunities and ways to continue to be a strong presence in this market because we believe in it,” Bartos said.

Winding down in Aberdeen

New home construction has slowed this year in Aberdeen, but Director of Planning Phyllis Grover expects it to pick up in the next few months.

In 2016, the city issued permits for 42 single-family houses and 15 apartment buildings (192 apartments), while this year, through August, permits have been issued for 16 single-family houses, according to information provided by the city.

Most of the building in the city is finished or almost finished, she said. This includes Fields at Rock Glenn and Eagles Nest subdivisions, and the Summerland apartments on Beards Hill Road.

Plans for an expansion of the Eagles Nest subdivision are expected to be coming soon to the city for approval, she said.

Over the next few months, the Aberdeen City Council will begin reviewing amendments to its development code to allow more residential development on the west side of Interstate 95, Grover said.

“There’s a whole lot of land left there to be developed,” she said about the area around Churchville Road and Gilbert and Long drives area.

“If the code is approved, it opens new development opportunities,” Grover said.

Not much room

Building had stopped for a while in the Town of Bel Air as it addressed the need for a backup water supply for the town in case of a drought or a disaster that contaminates the stream. They are being resolved with construction of a 90-million impoundment at the former Mount Soma property, Planning Director Kevin Small said.

“I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand. For quite a long time, there has not been a lot of residential development in downtown. A lot of commercial, but not residential,” Small said.

Over the next six to eight months, he expects to see at least two, possibly three, new residential projects in town most of which will be multi-family housing, he said.

“I’m encouraged by the next year or two. I think we’ll see more residential development, especially more near the downtown,” Small said.

Plans are expected to be submitted soon for the second phase of Legacy at Gateway behind the Bel Air Post Office for 77 age-restricted condominiums, Small said.

The town also approved a plan for apartments at the old Bel Air Academy as well as the former Harford County Public Schools headquarters on Gordon Street, where up to 40 apartments could be built.

As far as single-family development, there isn’t much room within town limits. There’s some infill space here and there but not space for a large development, he said.

It might get to the point, Small said, that existing houses are torn down and new ones are built in their place. Before that happens, however, the town is trying to encourage more additions “to be able to keep the same fabric and pattern to the community it is now,” Small said.

In the latest development regulations, some have been relaxed a bit to allow residents to add to their houses more easily than in the past, without having to go through a long approval process. It also helps with aging in place, he said.

“Someone can stay in their house longer because they can create accommodations for the needs they have,” he said.

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