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Building report: Construction grows, population does not

This chart was used during a recent presentation about building activity in the city during 2012; it shows the average cost of a new-construction home. Note: Construction costs given do not include lot expense. <i>Chart courtesy of the City of River Falls</i>

A recent Plan Commission meeting featured the annual report of the Community Development department, including construction and building permits.

Building Inspector Joe Lenzen presented the numbers, commenting that while the average rate of population growth in River Falls is usually about 1.6% per year and has been as high as 4%, it was zero for 2012.

Lenzen said it was the first year since 1990 with no population growth.

He said the phenomenon probably results from the roughly 100 foreclosures still in the process of happening. People leave after foreclosure, and they all require different amounts of time to process and settle.

Lenzen monitors River Falls' notices and said there were 125 homes in the process of foreclosure two years ago.

The number of new-construction homes increased 88% over the previous year, from 17 permits issued in 2011, to 30 permits issued in 2012. Those include 18 single-family homes, 10 twin homes and two duplexes.

The inspector showed an illustration by subdivision of where the homes were built:

  • 7 in Royal Oaks
  • 7 in Stone Brook
  • 6 in the Eco Village
  • 2 duplexes in older subdivisions
  • 2 in Shady Bend of Spring Creek
  • 2 in Knollwood
  • 1 in Sterling Ponds
  • 1 in Highview Meadows III
  • 1 in Quail Ridge
  • 1 in South Pointe

He said total new-construction value in the city two years ago was at $11 million; for 2012, it is at $8 million.

Lenzen said the total number of building permits was up about 10% over the last year, but the total includes all permits for all projects including new construction, remodeling and restoration.

The city inspector has noticed trends in today's new-construction homes that differ from ones before the recession. Lenzen said homes are generally smaller, don't have high ceilings or formal dining rooms, many either don't have a finished basement or don't have a basement at all.

He still sees "nice, big kitchens," as well as master-suite bedrooms.

Lenzen said the only new commercial construction was a small telecommunications building in the north-end industrial park.

The process for several non-residential new-construction projects was either started or finished during 2012; among them:

  • McDonald's expansion, not yet started
  • Comforts of Home senior living, building construction begins in spring
  • New retail space at 705 N. Main St., construction pending
  • School improvements at Greenwood, Rocky Branch and Westside
  • Family Fresh completed
  • University Falls student housing completed
  • Tip Top Nail salon finished
  • YoJoes frozen-yogurt shop remodeled.

Lenzen said several businesses have gone into the "incubator building," River Falls Industrial Center II. The building is located in the north-end industrial park and used to house the local business UFE.

Mayor Dan Toland asked Lenzen at the Plan Commission meeting if developers are showing any kind of interest these days. He said yes, some.

Most are hopeful and others are finding a niche in building smaller homes for first-time buyers.

The trend Lenzen sees are banks starting to sell some of the vacant lots in small chunks -- but more so to small business or developers than to national builders or companies.

"It's the local guys," he said to the commission, "the local smaller businesses that hung through the down cycle here."