Construction industry alive and well

Number of applications on par with last year

By Andrew Mitchell

The construction industry was unusually busy in the run-up to the 2010 Games, but even as the resort approaches build-out in terms of bed units, Whistler remains a busy place for builders.

Through the first half of 2009 the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) collected $340,000 more in building permits than the planning department budgeted for, or close to double what was expected.

That doubling trend has continued into 2010.

In rounded numbers, the department has already collected $134,000 in permit fees through the end of May, well ahead of the roughly $76,000 budgeted for that period based on estimates.

“It was really slow in January, February and most of March, but the last few months there has been a steady stream of people coming through the door,” said Joe Mooney, manager of the RMOW building department. “It’s not like the old days where we were putting up hundreds of millions of dollars of new construction, but there is a lot of renovation work going on, and there’s the Rainbow project obviously. Projects in general are a lot smaller than what we’ve seen in the past, but it’s still fairly busy.”

The costs of permits vary, depending on the project.

From January 1 to May 31 in 2009 the RMOW sold 167 permits for residential properties and 43 for commercial. Through the first five months of 2010 the RMOW sold 132 residential permits and 46 commercial.

The 2009 year was also unusual given the work on the athletes’ village/Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood and Fitzsimmons Walk, the renovation of the Aava Hotel, and numerous other projects pushed through before the 2010 Games. Without those projects the construction industry was expected to slow down.

The number of permits issued was slow during the Olympics and Paralympics, but the department picked up as soon as the Games left town.

“We had 178 total permits for this period in 2010 versus 210 the previous year, so it’s not that far off considering that for the first few months of the year nobody was doing anything. We’ve seen a flood come through the door in the last month and a half,” said Mooney.

“It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen going forward, we can only really give numbers up to the day. We thought it would slow down, but really we’re just seeing a different type of application.”

The Canadian Home Builders Association, Sea to Sky, talked to members and found that contractors are starting to get busier heading into summer with current developments such as Rainbow, Baxter Creek, Cheakamus Crossing and Wedge Woods.

Looking ahead, the CHBA-S2S expects things to continue to be busy, even after the resort reaches its development cap of 62,150 bed units including resident restricted housing.

“Though Whistler may be reduced to limited area for building homes there has always been, and will remain, a strong industry for renovating existing properties,” said Bronwen Thorburn, executive officer for CHBA-S2S. “The cost and time of renovating some of these homes sometimes surpasses that of a new home build, so it becomes a considerable project to take on by the home builder. The difference between then and now is that consumers are now looking for more green ways to do this.”

As well, Thorburn notes that there are 80 lots listed by local realtors. With a conservative estimate of $800,000 that represents over $60 million of future construction.

While there was a small downturn before and after the Games, Thorburn says that builders adjusted by encouraging their employees to take advantage of training opportunities that are available.

“The professional businesses are the ones that see slower times as an opportunity to raise those standards with their businesses… by educating themselves and their employees so that they stay on top of their field.”

Thorburn says that some of the builders that flooded the resort in the lead-up to the Games have moved on, while the career contractors have remained.

There is no shortage of places for those transient construction workers to go.

According to the government of B.C.’s Major Projects Inventory, the number of projects around the province is also picking up.

A June 3 release, based on numbers from January 1 to March 31, 2010, suggests there are 896 major construction projects planned or underway across B.C., or roughly triple the number of projects reported in 2001. The estimated value of the construction is $191.1 billion.

As well, there are 547 projects that have been proposed but have yet to receive the approvals that would allow them to advance to the planning and permitting phase.

The list of ongoing projects includes $752 million in investment in clean energy projects such as run-of-river independent power projects.

The Rainbow residential development is also recognized as the largest of the 15 major projects where construction is underway with a total estimated value of $400 million at buildout.

Building permits are typically required for any renovation that requires an alteration to the building, such as reconstruction, demolition, removal, relocation or a change of occupancy (such as installing a new room or a suite) to be consistent with the provincial building code. For example, every bedroom requires a window or egress.

As well, permits are required for excavations around a property or any changes to the building structure or plumbing.

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