Construction permits, project valuations hit all-time highs in Routt County in 2022

Construction crews are hard at work in the Wildhorse Meadows area on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, as building continues to maintain a brisk pace in Routt County. According to the Routt County Building Department, the 1,080 construction permits issued in 2022 was a record.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County Building Department statistics show 2022 was a record-breaking year for both new construction permits and project valuations.

Throughout Routt County last year, the total valuation of construction projects was more than $428.4 million, breaking down to more than $224 million in Steamboat Springs and more than $204.3 million in the rest of Routt County.

Of the total valuation, almost $220 million was for new single-family dwellings.

“Total construction valuation is a ‘wow’ mostly due to inflation,” Routt County Building Official Todd Carr said.

The previous peak year for total construction valuation came in 2021 with more than $378.4 million in projects countywide, a significant increase over 2020 at more than $212.3 million.

The number of building permits issued in 2022 broke the county’s record at 1,080, including 583 in Steamboat and 497 in the county. The total included 24 permits for commercial or industrial buildings. The next highest year was 2021 with 986 permits, including 495 in Steamboat and 491 in the county.

Many of the statistical categories reported in graphs in the building department’s 2022 year-end report show large U shapes with the previous surge last seen in 2007. The county saw peaks last year in multi-family units with 332 units constructed and in factory-built homes with 23 in the county and four in Steamboat.

Get real estate transactions, short-term rental updates and new listings in your inbox. Sign up here:

The number of large accessory buildings constructed — structures like garages, barns, sheds or hobby rooms — hit a peak of 75 in 2022 compared to 19, 33 and 41 per year the previous three years.

Carr theorized the uptick in unincorporated Routt County property owners purchasing large, steel-fabricated accessory buildings is based on factors such as being stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, lower interest rates in early 2022 that spurred refinancing and increasing property values that boosted equity when refinancing.

Construction dropped last year in the categories of live-work units and duplexes, with only four new duplexes built. The decline followed seven years in which 15 or more duplexes were built each year countywide. Residential and commercial alteration permits also fell to 205 last year, compared to peaks of 555 and 647 the previous two years.

While December is traditionally a slow month for construction, last December was the slowest in 20 years due to the combined factors of a hard winter that hit early and did not let up, labor and subcontractor shortages, and some continuing supply chain issues, Carr said.  Contractors are reporting delays on project schedules by about three months or more, and more housing project sites than usual are stagnant due to this year’s harsh winter and heavy snow, he said.

“It’s one of the slowest Decembers since we were in the heart of the last recession. It pushed contractors behind on schedules,” Carr said. “It’s very challenging for a general contractor to put together a very good project calendar and adhere to it.”

Brian Heit, vice president at JSM builders in Steamboat Springs, said many local construction subcontractors stay very busy with a high volume of work, so building schedules often have more gaps between construction steps. Currently, the county is short on framing contractors, and many excavation companies are busy instead with snow plowing work, Heit said.

“It’s been a tough, tough winter — no doubt about,” Heit said. “I feel like we spend more time shoveling snow than anything else.”

The builder said the past two years during the pandemic have changed how companies order construction supplies, and they are now submitting orders much earlier in the process. He said his current supply chain delays include kitchen appliances, windows and exterior doors.

“We shift how we approach jobs, and that means being extremely proactive with all ordering,” Heit said.

The builder said he was “definitely surprised” that JSM, which builds custom and speculative homes, did not experience a drop in work as interest rates have increased since March.

Both Carr and Heit said 2022 was a year of customers wanting larger homes in rural Routt County.

“We are starting to see more houses out in the county that are at 5,000 or above in square footage,” Carr said.

Last year, 64 permits for single-family dwellings were issued in Steamboat and 77 in the county. Carr said the building department is expecting construction numbers to stay strong in 2023.

The building official said that the department, which covers all jurisdictions across the county, added two full-time equivalent positions in the last two years for a permit tech and a code compliance officer to help with the added workload. The building department also increased cross-training, reoriented employees to help with spikes in permits and instituted an updated software system that enhanced efficiency in the permit process.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.