Hurricane sees strong uptick in building permits even during pandemic – and possibly because of it

HURRICANE — Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Hurricane has seen a strong uptick in building permit requests this year, a trend that could exceed their all-time record in 2005.

Even if it doesn’t beat a record, Stephen Nelson, the city’s planning director, told St. George News that they have already surpassed the number of residential building permits issued last year.

According to data provided by Nelson, Hurricane City’s number of building permits for new dwelling units reached an all-time high in 2005 with 523 permits issued. In 2018, there were 350. In 2019, there were 357. From January to August this year, there have been 354, with an additional 34 so far in September, some of which are still pending.

The majority of these building permits are subdivisions, Nelson said, but there are also some infills of vacant lots in areas that haven’t traditionally been subdivided, as well as smaller subdivisions.

Due to this influx, the city has been in discussion about possibly expanding the planning department; however, Nelson said he has been encouraging them to take a pause, as the trend will most likely die down at some point.

L-R: Mike Vercimak, public works director, and Stephen Nelson, planning director, at a Hurricane City Council meeting, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 3, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

“I definitely think in a couple of years there will probably have to be some additional staff in our planning department,” he said. “What my recommendation is to the city is that we really evaluate to see how long this trend will last, this huge amount of growth. I would hate to knee-jerk hire someone and then have everything slow down and die.”

While Nelson wasn’t sure of the exact ratio, he said he has spoken with realtors and developers who told him they are seeing more clients moving into state from Nevada and California in particular.

“A lot of the building has been generated by people moving in from out of state,” he said.

The spike in building permits is due to a huge housing demand in the area, he said, and the fact that compared to other parts of the country, Hurricane has been less impacted by the pandemic.

“A lot of people want to live here. In Southern Utah – when you look comparatively to the rest of the country – we have a relatively low coronavirus rate,” he said, adding that the economy has also suffered less.

Virgin river flows through the north side of Confluence Park in Hurricane, Utah, Dec. 19, 2019 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

The city is also receiving an abundance of requests for zone changes, which has been a unique challenge as the requests have intercepted with a time when they are also working on updating the general plan.

“This year we’ve seen a total of 33 zone change applications, and that’s been a challenge because we’re currently updating our general plan and our future land use map, and those are the guiding documents for how the city wants to look in the next 10 to 50 years.”

Data obtained through outreach and surveys about what residents and others hope for the future of Hurricane shows a strong desire to preserve the natural open space, as well as wanting to bring in more dining and recreational opportunities – preferences which could conflict with zone change requests.

Nelson said he expects the growth to slow at some point to mirror the economic downturn seen in other parts of the country.

Our economy will probably eventually reflect what the rest of the country is seeing, though it seems like it probably won’t be impacted as much as some other areas. So I still anticipate that our housing market will still remain strong in the area, and that we’ll still see growth; however, I do think it’s likely that things will slow down at some point.

When it comes to whether the infrastructure can keep up with the rapid growth, Arthur Lebaron, the city’s engineer, told St. George News that the price tag of infrastructure is monumental, which creates a challenge for those who develop in areas where there is none.

“It’s difficult for any entity to bear the cost of putting in proper infrastructure, so it seems like it’s always a battle to get it right,” he said. “We have some areas of town where there’s already infrastructure adjacent to the developed property, and so if they don’t have any offsite infrastructure costs, it seems like a slam dunk.”

The driving factor of the infrastructure essentially comes down to the economy. Lebaron said he currently shares Nelson’s perspective and thinks the growth pattern is related to the pandemic.

“I think that there’s a lot of people in different areas of the country that just want to live somewhere peaceful, and we have that here,” he said. “We have a lot of peace and tranquility and beautiful scenery.”

While other areas of the country are experiencing downturns in building and housing, he said Hurricane has experienced “an extreme uptick.”

“We’ve done nothing but go up. But as far as it being a sustainable growth rate, I don’t think it is. I think at some point there’s going to be a dip.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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