Building Up in Whitefish

By Beacon Staff

Subdivisions that went untenanted for years during the recession are now bustling with construction activity as Whitefish’s upward growth trend continues at a steady rate, with single-family home construction at its busiest since 2006.

More than two months still remain in 2013 and already the Whitefish Planning and Building Department has issued 212 building permits for single-family residences, townhouses, commercial projects, additions and multi-family projects.

Last year, the department issued a total of 245 permits, and in 2011 it issued 204.

So far this year, the Planning and Building Department has issued 53 permits for single-family housing compared to a 10-year low of 14 starts in 2009.

“Whitefish is continuing an upward growth trend with regard to new single-family home construction and commercial construction within the city limits,” Planning Director David Taylor said. “New single-family home numbers are already ahead of last year and the best since 2006.”

He attributed much of that uptick in construction to the growing market for second homes, which is partially driven by Canadians riding a robust economy that’s been buoyed by oil production north of the border.

“We are also seeing a lot of entry level homes being constructed as well as quite a few significant remodels of existing homes,” he said.

Nationwide, new housing starts have increased every year since they bottomed out in 2009, according to statistics provided by the National Association of Homebuilders, and the western states have been no exception.

“We are seeing that trend continue locally in 2013 and the planners I’ve talked to around the state say that the resort-oriented communities such as Big Sky, West Yellowstone and even Bozeman have been seeing significant increases in housing starts as well,” Taylor said. “We are anticipating this growth trend to continue through 2014 and beyond here in Whitefish.”

With its vibrant downtown and world-class recreational amenities, Whitefish is an appealing community to live in, which has helped drive the growth, said RE/MAX of Whitefish’s Brian Nicodemus, the 2013 president of the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors.
“Whitefish is a great place to live and people and people want to come live here for the same reasons we do,” he said.

As Whitefish begins to recover from the lull in development, Nicodemus said lots that languished on the market for several years are rapidly being purchased.

“We had a 20-year supply of lots in Whitefish at the rate they were selling in 2008, and a 15-year lot supply throughout the Flathead Valley,” Nicodemus said. “Now they are being bought up by developers and single-family homebuyers.”

“Given that we had three really bad years, the last two years have been really good. It’s been great for the city and great for the community,” he said.

Based on figures from the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau, bed tax revenues, a benchmark to gauge the number of nonresident visitors, indicate that tourism in the Flathead Valley is up compared to last year.

Statewide, bed tax revenues were up 6 percent in the first two quarters of 2013, while the figures in Kalispell were up 13 percent and Whitefish was up 23 percent, according to Jan Metzmaker, director of the CVB.

Whitefish Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Gartland said he still hopes other corners of the real estate market improve, such as high-ticket homes. Still, the overall development picture is much brighter than it has been in years, and Gartland said homes with a price tag of about $250,000 only last a week on the market.

“Overall in terms of development things are certainly looking stronger and that is a sign of a slowly improving economy,” he said.

Whitefish is also seeing its first approvals for major subdivisions, including preliminary plat approval for a zoning request from Haugen Heights LLC for 32-lot development.

“That’s the first big one since 2009,” Taylor said.

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