St. John sets record for home permits

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 12, 2007

Parish saw 148 permits in December, sending St. John past all-time record of permit requests


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – With the start of mandatory building inspections for all new construction kicking off in 2007, it was expected to see a rush for building permits at the end of 2006.

But even officials with the St. John permit department might have been surprised with what actually happened.

The previous all-time record for new housing starts in St. John was 2001 when a total of 269 new residential construction permits were issued. That was nearly topped in 2005 when the parish had 268 permits.

But with the pending inspections adding costs to a new home, many builders tried to take advantage of one last start without the inspections by getting their permit in by December 31, 2006.

That led to the parish permit department processing 148 permits in the month of December alone, sending St. John far past the all-time yearly record with a total of 418 new residential starts for 2006.

&#8220I thought we were going to hit at least 350 in 2006, since we saw a big rebound the year after the hurricane,” Planning and Zoning Director Adrienne Labat said. &#8220But the 418 was pretty surprising.”

Labat said she sees this as a move back towards solid, but steady growth for St. John.

&#8220We won’t see 400 again in 2007, but I think we will continue back with our numbers up near 300,” she added.

As for the big push her staff had to handle in December and January to handle the huge number of applications, Labat had nothing but kind words.

&#8220Our staff worked weekends and after hours to get it done and I think they did a great job,” she added. &#8220But things have settled down in January and February with so many permits being issued in December. That’s good since we needed a break.”

&#8220We even sent donuts over there a few times to try and be nice,” Landcraft builder Joey Scontrino said, as his number one building company in St. John applied for over 100 permits.

For Scontrino, that may seem like a lot, but not so when you consider how many subdivisions he is currently building.

His ongoing Cole’s Landing has houses going up every day, and he has already added new property purchases from Danny Becnel to add Cole’s Landing Phase II, which will have 171 more lots.

Landcraft has the Woodland Villa Condos going up with 80 units, has purchased Praise Place with 90 home sites, and has applied for approval of the Foxwood residential subdivision to include 92 residences.

The real estate market in the area had slowed down considerably late in 2006, but most experts agree that things are picking up and should be moving strong in 2007.

&#8220I expect the market to bounce back,” Scontrino said. &#8220We’re already seeing things pick up as the new year has begun, and I think you will continue to see steady, although not extraordinary growth, here as the year continues.”

Scontrino said he expects to build between 250 to 300 new homes in 2007.

Ray Leach Construction, another top St. John builder, also believes that steady growth for St. John is coming, now that things have settled down from some ups and downs following Hurricane Katrina.

&#8220I think we are getting back to pre-Katrina growth rates, and maybe even a little more than that,” he explained. &#8220We had a slowdown late in 2006, but I think that was due to a lot of New Orleans people waiting on money for their homes. Now we’re seeing that money beginning to come through, and a lot of those people are electing to relocate out this way.”

Leach said he sees a definite trend of people making decisions to not rebuild in New Orleans.

&#8220Right now we are getting about 60 percent of our business from people not wanting to go back to New Orleans, but still wanting to stay in this area,” he said. &#8220You are absolutely seeing people make a choice not to go back to New Orleans.”

Leach said he only applied for 12 permits in December and wasn’t too worried about the new inspections since he does a lot of his business in Jefferson Parish and Orleans Parish, where the inspections have already been in effect.

&#8220We have always built our homes according to that code anyway, so I wasn’t worried with trying to get a bunch of permits pulled here before the inspections went into effect,” he stated.

Leach’s big project in St. John continues to the The Grove subdivision, just at the west end of Airline Highway in LaPlace, where a 350 home development offers homes in the $150,000 to $220,000 range. He is just finishing Phase I with 52 homes and is moving forward with the five year plan for the development.

&#8220I’m happy with how things are going there right now,” he said. &#8220Now that money is coming to people who lost houses in New Orleans, we are seeing a lot of those people electing to come out to St. John.”

Wesley Moore of Moore New Homes, Inc. built 27 new homes in St. John in 2006, and said he expects to have a record year of 35-40 in 2007.

&#8220The growth is here and the new businesses are going to come,” the 40-year veteran builder said. &#8220But the growth is moving west. The LaPlace area is running out of places to build, and you can see a big move towards the west, to Gramercy and even into St. James and Ascension Parish.”

Moore said the slowdown late in 2006 had many factors, but was just a temporary delay in what he sees as strong growth that is now coming.

&#8220I don’t think you will see wild growth here, but it will be steady and it isn’t going to slow down,” he added. &#8220We had high prices for homes, especially existing homes after the hurricane, and that finally slowed the market somewhat. But I think the prices have all settled down and now you have reasonable home prices. That’s going to bring new people, and if that steel mill gets approved in St. James, it will be just crazy.”