Building permit numbers up, so are concerns

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SARASOTA COUNTY, FL - New construction building permits in our area were way up in 2013 compared to the year before. A sign the housing market and construction industry are bouncing back. Some are concerned though that growth comes with a price.

In 2013 North Port issued 353 permits for new home construction. A nearly 60% increase from the year before. "It's actually our best year in the past five years." Building official Bryan Holland says it's far from the more than 4,000 issued in 2006 but a more sustainable rate of growth. "The backlog of expired permits and abandoned construction is down to less than 100. So right now we are looking at mostly new construction."

The city of Venice saw a record 36% increase to 161 homes. Sarasota County was up 41% at nearly 900 new homes. Good for the local economy but cause for concern for those who are worried about the impacts. "South county in particular is at risk of traffic gridlock, taxes going up to accommodate growth, so we need reasonable control." Dan Lobeck with Control Growth Now says one way to do that is to make sure development is paying its way. Local governments have cut impact fees to help stimulate the construction industry while creating jobs during the recession. Lobeck says it's time to go back. "Sarasota County and other local governments have slashed impact fees. They are at half of what they should be. What we are seeing now is inadequate road programs because of that. The shifting of the impacts of the growth onto the tax paying public."

Those fees are used for projects many of us want says Holland. "Water, utilities, sidewalks, the road expansion currently on Sumter boulevard. These are all the benefits of heavy construction."

A balancing act though. Fees too low and tax payers have to come up with more. The Sumter Boulevard project for example still needed a $10 million loan to be complete. Fees too high and developers say they can't build and create jobs. A major part of the local economy still feeling uneasy from recent times.

Lobeck believes they will be just fine. "We had the biggest boom ever in construction. Residential and commercial. Impact fees were at the highest levels they ever were before. They were not a discouragement to growth then and they wont be now. We will just make growth pay its own way so the tax payers and mobility don't suffer."

North Port building officials say they're expecting about the same number of permits for homes this year. Expecting much more when it comes to commercial space.