'Very busy' year so far for building permits, Saint John says

Spring came early this year for Saint John's planning department.

Building permits in the city during the first quarter up to the end of March were "very busy," growth commissioner Amy Poffenroth told the city's growth committee last week. The early months of the year usually see softer permit numbers because construction season has not yet begun.

"We're seeing application numbers right now that we wouldn't typically see until April, May or June, which is typically our very busy time," she said. "This year we're seeing that type of busy activity early in the year, which we're extremely pleased to see."

A report presented to the committee said that 134 permits were received in the first quarter, which is 23 more than the five-year average. Permit construction value for the quarter was $45.9 million, which is $20 million over the average.

Since then, Poffenroth said that there have been 33 more permits granted with a construction value of $9.2 million.

"It's really quite phenomenal what we're seeing," she said, adding that the trend is around residential units.

There were 105 new permitted units at the end of March, against a five-year average of 47 year-to-date, which Poffenroth said jumped to 167 by the time of the meeting.

She said they've already permitted 14 per cent of the Housing Accelerator Fund targets of 1,124 units over three years, adding "of course we would like to see more."

Since the city's last update, Poffenroth said 14 new projects are under construction or ready to start, and overall there are approximately 525 units under construction or ready to start.

She said there are 170 units as part of permits that are under review, and 280 units as part of three projects that have planning approval but have not yet sent in their permit applications.

She said there are 15 pre-application meetings planned with developers, all but two involving residential projects.

"The last couple of weeks it's been crazy, and it's a good thing," said Deputy Mayor John MacKenzie, chair of the growth committee. "It's excellent to get these permits in, get these buildings going and get the housing that we need for the future."

Coun. Brent Harris asked if the city has seen new "substantial" residential developers, and Poffenroth said that Fredericton's Erik de Jong has brought in a "substantial" number.

De Jong is associated with City Line Holdings, which is pursuing multi-unit projects at the former St. Patrick's School on the lower west side and St. Vincent's School on Cliff Street, and Slopeside Holdings, which saw a 226-unit project on Loch Lomond Road approved by council in February.

Harris asked if the city could track the vacancy rate in their statistical updates, suggesting that keeping the vacancy rate stable would also have a stabilizing effect on rents.

Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal