Economic director, councilors enthused by recent planning, construction boom

Having an overworked group of municipal employees is usually not considered a positive situation.

Yet when those jobs involve responding to a flurry of new construction and renovation projects cropping up in the city, there’s reason to believe that better economic times — and staffing — are on the horizon.

That’s the message Don Mazziotti, the city of Beaverton’s community and economic development director, conveyed to the Budget Committee on Thursday, in its first of three meetings to discuss the city’s $180 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Citing an increase in construction and renovation projects in housing as well as commercial sectors, he indicated he would likely return to seek an expansion of the proposed $513,176 building inspection personnel budget.

“Today we face the challenge of meeting a sudden uptick in both multifamily and residential housing development,” he told the committee. “We don’t have enough staff to do inspections. This is great news — a sea change. Something we haven’t seen for six years, now is taking place.”

With Nike’s plans to expand its Washington County campus by two buildings and at least 500 employees, last week’s Land Use Board of Appeals decision to uphold zoning designations clearing the way to plan the 63-acre Peterkort family property along Southwest Barnes Road and the proposed development of 3,500 houses at South Cooper Mountain as key examples, development prospects are indeed on the move in and around Beaverton.

Building workload

Building permits and inspection applications are up from the previous fiscal year, with 122 single-home permits issued in 2012-13 compared to 100 in 2011-12, according to figures provided by Brad Roast, program manager for the city’s building operating division. Another 14 are ready to be issued and 25 under review.

Multi-family building permits have increased from three, for 34 units, in 2011-12 to 15, for 280 units, with 13 additional projects comprising 232 units ready for review. In the commercial building realm, two more permits have been issued compared to the last fiscal year, with seven now under review.

For the upcoming 2013-14 budget year, Roast projects 150 applications for new single-family home permits, 15 to 20 applications for multi-family buildings — for as many as 300 units — and 15 to 18 commercial building permit requests.

Citing eight projects in the development phase that were unknown as recently as two months ago, Mazziotti chalks up the positive trend to low-interesthome loan rates, an improving overall economy, an aggressive city economic development approach and of course Nike’s recently announced expansion plans.

The shift, he said, is already straining the current staff of 14 inspectors.

“We are at capacity. The 25 (daily) inspections our staff is currently doing should be about 15,” he said.

At the outset of the Great Recession, 12 inspector positions were slashed from the 2008-09 city budget, leaving a staff of about 14 building, electrical and plumbing inspectors, including one senior field inspector.

“You just can’t get these guys off the street,” Mazziotti noted on Friday. “You have to be certified and experienced. The supply has gone away. It’s not like we have a stable of ready and able inspectors. We need to be thinking ahead at this point.”

City Councilor Marc San Soucie agreed the correlation between economic improvement and overworked building inspectors is a mixed bag.

“As a sign of economic resurgence, the symptom is a good sign, but it’s not a good symptom,” he said. “Overworked inspectors could potentially lead to delays or quality issues, and I’m not keen on seeing Beaverton’s reputation for responsiveness or quality lowered.”

Depending on how the recent trend develops, he would be open to a budget amendment to bolster the inspection staff.

“If the symptom persists, I’ll be supportive of hiring as needed to make sure our inspectors can meet all of the demand,” San Soucie said.

Moving out

Nike’s expansion plans — which Mazziotti indicated aren’t likely to diminish the company’s currently leased office space throughout Beaverton — is already having ripple effects. Across Murray Boulevard from the company’s campus, all 320 planned units at the fledgling 45-degree Central housing development have sold, he noted. The project’s developer is among many looking to branch out in the city, whose inventory of vacant lots for single-family homes is down to 1,300.

“Metropolitan Land Group is searching for additional land, as are many developers,” he said.

The 3,500 units outlined for Area 6B, 600 acres in the South Cooper Mountain area the city annexed when it was brought into the Urban Growth Boundary, will fulfill some, if not all, of the housing demand. It will take careful planning, however, to avoid aggravating the already traffic-congested nexus of Southwest Scholls Ferry and Roy Rogers roads.

“It used to be a trickle. Now there’s a huge volume,” Mazziotti said, noting it will take about a year to develop a concept plan for the area. “The number one priority in Area 6B is to be sure to protect the natural resources and waterways while following appropriate building methods.”

City Councilor Betty Bode, who said she’d likely support an expansion of the city’s inspection staff, is optimistic about affordable housing development prospects at First Street and Angel Avenue, Second Street and Lombard Avenue and the vacant Westgate property at The Round at Beaverton Central.

“I think we do have a shortage in our housing inventory of single-family homes,” she said on Tuesday. “We still have some land the city owns and is trying to get developers for at First and Angel, and we have parties interested in finalizing a project at Second and Lombard.

“There is interest,” she added. “And I hope we can move ahead.”

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