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City sees signs of hope for construction economy

(April 19, 2013) Development in the resort, both statistically and anecdotally, seems to be making its strongest comeback since the 2008 economic slump, with last month setting a post-decline record for building permit valuations, as well as the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission this week approving two new major projects.

The commission gave the go-ahead Tuesday on plans for a massive expansion of the Crab Bag restaurant on 131st Street, which will now be expanding into the property immediately to its north, which was recently vacated after the Kite Loft moved its store to the new shopping center being built at 67th Street.

“They’ve now acquired all the property with the Kite Loft and the offices in that area,” said Zoning Administrator R. Blaine Smith. The Crab Bag already has a take-out operation in the old Aquarius Condo building, which is connected to the former Kite Loft.

“They’re going to demo the Aquarius building and the Kite Lot and such, and basically connect the footprint of that building with the existing Crab Bag,” Smith said. The new building will be nearly 3,800 square feet.

The current restaurant does not comply with the latest city parking requirements, but is grandfathered in. The expansion of the building will go a long way towards helping the parking deficiency, Smith said, with the current 15 spaces being expanded to 53.

“If you go back to the original Crab Bag that was just in the old house on 131st, they only had four or five spaces,” Smith said. “The house is the only thing that still has some degree of non-conformity.”

The commission also re-approved an expired plan for the second building phase of the Sunburst Townhomes on 16th Street, a project whose first phase of condominium units had been built before the economic downturn but abandoned afterward.

“They basically want to have their approval re-instated,” Smith said. “One of the things, as a result of that, is that phases two and three of the project had parking non-conformity. The Board of Zoning Appeals has given them a waiver to reinstate their parking credits from the first phase.”

The project had been credited with the ability to have two spaces per unit instead of three, based on the layout of the structure that was there before. But since enough time has passed without redevelopment, the city could hold the developer to the new parking requirements if it so chose.

“Because of the economy, they basically ran out of time. What they told the BZA was that they would like to put in the foundation now, before the season, and then start construction in the fall,” Smith said.

Further, the total value of construction plans that the city has reviewed and approved is trending upwards, according to several of the city’s departments.

Data compiled by city Zoning Analyst Kay Stroud shows that March of 2013 was the best March since 2008, with work values breaking $4 million for the first time since the slump. March is a good indicator for the health of resort development, Stroud said, as it typically sees a swell of permits from those trying to fit improvements in before summer hits.

Although this March saw $4.5 million of development being authorized – versus $3.5 million in March 2012 – it still pales in comparison to 2008, when March permits broke $12 million.

The number of permits processed, according to City Engineer Terry McGean, has remained steady for many years, indicating that small projects have continued to make headway even if the high-value work has dropped off.

“You can still see that, while the number of permits we issue has remained steady, the fees – i.e., the amount of large projects – has shrunk considerably,” McGean said at a recent budget hearing.


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