This has been a busy year for the construction industry in Billings.
A year-end report from the Planning and Community Services Department shows that in almost every category of construction and remodeling, the numbers as of Dec. 1 this year were higher than those for 2014.
The total value of new construction and remodeling was higher last year, however, because of one thing: a destructive hail storm that hammered much of Billings on May 18, 2014.
That resulted in a whopping 11,770 permits issued last year for residential and commercial roofing (a category that also includes a small number of swimming pools, fences and foundations), compared with 6,255 permits as of Dec. 1 this year.
The total value of those roofing projects in 2014 was just over $105 million, compared with the $60.7 million recorded this year.
Even with that large difference, though, the total value of all construction and remodeling this year isn’t that far from the 2014 numbers—$327 million this year, compared with $335 million last year.
What made up a lot of the difference was the substantial increase this year in the number of multi-family dwellings, or housing complexes larger than a duplex. Thirty-eight of those have been issued permits in 2015, compared with 23 last year, and the total value of the multi-family projects this year is $42 million, more than double the $18.7 million value recorded in 2014.
And those projects, according to the narrative portion of the year-end report, added 403 apartment or condo living units to Billings.
Also up considerably this year were permits for commercial projects—85, with a value of $67.7 million, compared with 67 last year, with a value of $41.8 million.
The number of single-family houses went up a bit, from 392 to 411, while the value dipped a little, from $96 million to $92 million. That valuation included a house on Canyonwoods Drive, next to the Ironwood subdivision on the far West End, that is valued at more than $6.6 million. The report says the house is already known as “the castle.” It has been described as the largest single-family house ever built in Yellowstone County.
The number of duplexes issued permits remained the same, 27 both years, and the value was almost the same: $7.8 million in 2015 and $7.3 million last year.
Candi Millar, director of the Planning and Community Services Department, said one of the most striking things in the annual report, from a planning perspective, was the large number of subdivisions reviewed that are in Yellowstone County, outside city limits. (The department serves both the city and county.)
This year, there were 35 pre-application meetings for county subdivisions, compared with 13 in the city, indicating that there is going to be a lot of construction activity in the county in 2016. The number of pre-application meetings in the county was higher than in any year for at least the past six years, according to the annual report.
Also, 16 county subdivisions received preliminary approval, compared with 9 in the city.
“They just ramped up,” Millar said of county subdivision activity, “and most of those subdivisions are on the West End, just west of city limits. … It’s an awkward growth pattern.”
It’s awkward because those subdivisions will be built to county, not city, standards, the most obvious difference being that the county does not require the construction of curbs, gutters and sidewalks. But if those subdivisions are eventually annexed to the city, curbs, gutters and sidewalks would have to be added as a condition of annexation.
Other divisions of the planning department were also busy in 2015. The report says the Code Enforcement Division opened 4,450 cases as of Dec. 1, compared with 3,821 cases last year. As the report says, “all code activity is complaint driven so there are lots of people who appreciate a clean and well maintained City.”
The largest category of cases dealt with complaints of weeds, referred to in the report as “untended vegetation,” and illegally parked recreational vehicles and trailers. Weed complaints totaled 1,172, while RV and trailer complaints totaled 859.
The Community Development Division reported that 10 housing units were rehabilitated, and 48 households received First Time Home Buyers assistance.
The Transportation Planning Division undertook two big studies in 2015, the West End Multi-Model Traffic Modeling project and the Rimrocks to Valley Bike and Pedestrian Feasibility Study.
The first study aims to evaluate the impacts of current and future West End land development on the existing transportation network, to prepare it for future growth. The second will evaluate different means of developing bicycle and pedestrian trails from Highway 3 atop the Rims to existing trails below the Rims, between North 27th Street and Zimmerman Trail.
The annual report also noted that the Community Transportation Enhancement Program, a federally funded program that will cease to exist at the end of 2015, went out with a bang in Billings. CTEP funds were used for 12 bike and pedestrian projects, including trails, crosswalk and sidewalk improvements that will serve Ponderosa, Poly Drive and Arrowhead elementary schools.