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Two houses are well under way in the new Kelly Glen neighborhood on Route 1 just outside Bel Air. Harford County says housing construction picked up in 2011 compared with 2010, but activity is still well below that of five years ago.
Two houses are well under way in the new Kelly Glen neighborhood on Route 1 just outside Bel Air. Harford County says housing construction picked up in 2011 compared with 2010, but activity is still well below that of five years ago. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Patuxent Publishing)

The housing market in Harford County made a major rebound in 2011 after one of its lowest periods ever.

The county issued a total of 550 permits last year, an increase from 385 issued in 2010 and the highest number since 2007, before the recession started.

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In 2010, county planning and zoning director Pete Gutwald called the permit totals "one of the lowest numbers we have ever had in the county."

During the 12 months of 2010, the county issued 378 permits in all categories.

Most of that rebound is due to the rising rental market, Dan Rooney, a county planner, said Thursday.

He said 212 of the new units came from the Reserve at Riverside Apartments, a project which is not built out yet.

"That really helped pick it up, that one project," Rooney said. "I think that reflects the economy picking up a little bit, and especially the rental market … Some of the BRAC folks are looking for rental."

He noted other people are also getting their homes foreclosed on and moving into rental units.

"I think nationally the rental market's picked up," he said.

Other types of housing have not significantly gained speed, Rooney said.

The county last year issued permits for 183 new single-family homes, 136 townhomes, 12 condominium units and seven mobile homes.

"It's picked up a little bit, the singles and townhomes," Rooney said. "Hopefully it's a turning point where the market will continue to pick up, but until we get another year [in], we won't know for sure."

Rooney said he has not seen any indication yet that 2012 will see higher numbers. He said December did not have any significant increase in permits over the previous December.

Nevertheless, the 2011 numbers are clearly an improvement over the prior year.

"It is a positive direction," Rooney said.

The total of 550 is nearly as high as the 628 permits approved in 2007, when the recession was beginning.

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Harford approved 1,541 new units in 2005 and 720 in 2006. Permit numbers then fell to 429 in 2008 and 463 in 2009. All these numbers exclude the county's three municipalities – Aberdeen, Bel Air and Aberdeen – which issue permits for construction within their borders.

Municipalities see slight increase

While the county picked up speed, the three municipalities differed in their 2011 permit totals for new housing units.

Aberdeen grew the most, with 24, compared to eight the previous year.

Bel Air stayed roughly the same, with 41. The town had 42 in 2010 and 30 in 2009.

Much of Bel Air's new housing was in the Gateway neighborhood, and some was also along the areas of Ma & Pa Road and Train Court.

Havre de Grace, however, dropped to 78 permits after issuing 121 the year before. The city issued 95 in 2009.

Neal Mills, planning and zoning director for Havre de Grace, said he thought the brief increase in 2010 was due mostly to the federal tax incentive for first-time home buyers, which has since expired.

"There was a mad rush to take advantage of it in 2010 that drove those numbers artificially higher," Mills said. "I couldn't see any other reason, because there certainly wasn't any economic reason."

Mills said he is "optimistic right now" about housing picking up in Havre de Grace.

"We have gotten permits for the first two quarters [of this fiscal year] show a gain," he said, explaining there were 10 permits for December.

"That is kind of unusual because, typically, the winter months are down times for builders," he said.

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