Report shows slow housing growth in Warren County

FRONT ROYAL – Construction in Warren County still faces a long road to recovery before it returns to the pre-recession boom.

The Planning Department report for 2015 indicates that housing construction and other building activity remain far below the development spike of 2004-2005. The report shows building trends in the county through the department’s issuance of permits and other activities. Planning Director Taryn Logan presented the report to the Planning Commission earlier this month. The Planning Commission also, by law, must report its activities to the Board of Supervisors.

The county uses the number of new housing permits issued each year to determine growth rates, Logan explained Thursday. The county also keeps an eye on growth rates to make sure development stays at a manageable level, Logan said.

The Comprehensive Plan addresses development and states that the county should develop land-use polices and implement decisions that limit average residential growth to no more than 3 percent per year as measured in new housing permits. The plan also states that the county should encourage phased development so as to not exceed the goal of maintaining an annual growth rate of 2-3 percent.

“So we track the numbers to see are we well within that,” Logan said.

The county hit a development peak in 2004 when it issued 425 permits for new housing units, Logan said. The county issued about 400 permits for new housing units in 2005, about 360 in 2006 and approximately 250 in 2007. That number dropped to a low of 51 permits issued in 2010. The county issued more permits each year since then but the number of units has remained below the 11-year average since 2008.

The county hit a growth rate of almost 3 percent in 2004. The Board of Supervisors at the time reviewed the Comprehensive Plan and put the 2-3 percent goal into the planning document, Logan recalled.

However, while the number of units has continued to increase since 2010, the county saw a growth rate of 0.7 percent – well below the 2-3 percent goal set in the Comprehensive Plan.

Development and the growth rate tie into the county’s ability to provide services to residents: The more housing units in the county the greater the need to provide public safety, education and other services.

Logan said she isn’t worried about the low growth rate.

“It’s been good to see that it’s been steadily increasing and it’s at a manageable rate for providing services,” Logan said. “This gives the Board of Supervisors the picture of overall how the county’s growing.”

The board can use the data as it makes decisions about land use, Logan added. The numbers also give some idea about the health of the local economy.

The department also maps the permits issued to see where the growth occurs and how fast. In recent years, the department issued permits in no particular areas of the county or the town.

The department issued 374 building permits in 2015 totaling approximately $30.52 million in new construction. That amount represents an increase of $6.94 million over 2014. The department issued 116 new housing permits in 2015, with 15 in Front Royal town limits. By comparison, the county issued five housing permits in the town in 2014. The department has issued a total of 1,670 housing permits since 2005 for an average annual increase of 167 units.

The county has tracked new housing unit numbers for at least 30 years, Logan said. The number hit in 2010 is the lowest in 30 years, she noted. The county issued 495 permits in 1988, including 184 in Front Royal, the most in town limits in the past 30 years. In 1990 the county issued 397 permits including 108 in town.

Permits and other department activities don’t necessarily bring in a lot of revenue. The department collected $31,545 in revenue from issuing conditional-use and zoning permits, approving subdivision requests, reviewing site plans and other tasks.

The department report also includes population figures. Warren County’s population continues to climb. Estimates released last month by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service shows Warren County’s population increased slightly from 38,814 in 2014 to 38,829 in 2015. The county’s population has increased 23 percent since 2000 and at an average, annual rate of approximately 1.6 percent. Population growth slowed during the recession starting in 2008.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com