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Rebooted: County permit website back online, shows continued escalation in activity

CHARLOTTE ─ Bissell Development will put $10.8 million into the two Ballantyne buildings that will become the new home of MetLife insurance company’s Charlotte operation.

Gvest Partners pulled seven Mecklenburg County building permits worth $17.6 million for work on its Yards at NoDa apartment complex.

And the total number of county permits issued so far this year continues to expand its lead over the number issued at the same time last year; the total permit value inched closer to 2012’s; and residential permits for the benchmark detached single-family home continued on its trajectory to make 2013 the best in homebuilding since 2008.

Those are the headlines that emerged Tuesday, the first day in nearly a month that county building permits have been available to the public.

A computer glitch at Mecklenburg County Code Enforcement put everyone, including Code Enforcement Director Jim Bartl, in the data dark for 25 days.

“We’re as concerned about it as you,” an obviously impatient Bartl said Monday. “Especially since we’re now up against end-of-(fiscal)-year deadlines” to compile statistical overviews of 2012-13.

The trouble started on June 14, a Friday, when the county’s information technology staff shut down Code Enforcement’s internal database system to upgrade it.

After doing so, the county IT team had trouble syncing the internal system and the public one on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Data Store site.

“The two systems had trouble talking to each other and putting the right data and metrics in the right slot,” Code Enforcement IT Manager Sandra Broome-Edwards said.

Between June 14 and Tuesday afternoon, builders and contractors pulled 1,182 permits worth more than $151 million.

That brought the year-to-date total to 9,153 permits, or 4 percent more than at the same time in 2012. At last report, on June 13, this year’s permit total was only 1 percent higher than last year.

In terms of value, the 2013 permits issued as of Tuesday came in at nearly $1.3 billion. That still lags behind last year, but by only about 4 percent. Before the computer crash, the total was 7 percent behind the same point in 2012.

The value decline from last year, Bartl said, is largely attributable to less money being invested in commercial projects. And that, he said, is because preparations for Charlotte’s hosting of the 2012 Democratic National Convention inflated that year’s commercial permit value.

Other observers, including Jon Morris, industrial development partner with Charlotte-based Beacon Partners, had another view: Less costly upfit and rehab projects this year have depressed the value of commercial permits.

That stands in stark contrast to the ongoing joy on the residential side of the Charlotte-area construction business, where building projects are always more numerous but generally less expensive than commercial ones.

As of Tuesday, the number of 2013 county building permits for detached single family homes ─ the industry standard for measuring homebuilding activity and the overwhelming majority of new residences built in Charlotte ─ stood at 1,892, a whopping 42 percent over the same time last year. The value was up even more over the July 8, 2012 level, by 44 percent, to $307 million. That not only means that builders are building more homes but that the homes are slightly more expensive, too.

Those figures put single-family homebuilders in the county on track to end 2013 with 3,800 permits worth $613 million, which would make it the best year since 2008.

“We’re just building more houses, and as fast we can,” said Alan Banks, president of the Home Builders Association of Charlotte. “Buyers are buying, and builders are building.”

But the top single permit by value to be issued during the database’s temporary demise was on the commercial side ─ at $10.8 million ─ and went to Bissell Development, a division of the Charlotte-based Bissell Cos. It will be used to prepare its Gragg and Woodward Buildings at 11225 N. Community House Road in Ballantyne for employees of MetLife. The insurance company announced in March that it is relocating 2,600 jobs between new offices in Charlotte and Cary.

MetLife is expected to start moving into the Gragg in November and into the Woodward sometime next year, according to Meghan Lantier, a spokeswoman for the insurance company. MetLife is expected to eventually occupy 340,000 square feet in the 10-story buildings, where basic construction finished in December. The two have a combined square footage of 525,000.

The general contractor for the project will be Balfour Beatty Construction.

Gvest Partners’ Yards at NoDa apartment project off East 33rd Street near North Davidson Road won the most valuable set of permits issued during the 25-day database downtime with seven, totaling $17.6 million.

The 342-unit project, where construction got under way in March, will eventually cost about $36 million to build, according to John Bell of the Atlanta-based Gvest.

Bell said the complex, scheduled for completion next March, will be “hip and quirky” to blend into the arty NoDa neighborhood, centered on East 36th and North Davidson streets.

Hathaway Construction Co. is the general contractor.

Meanwhile, the county Code Enforcement internal building permits database appeared stable Tuesday, Broome-Edwards said, as did the Integrated Data Store site. But more upgrades and maintenance are scheduled, and both systems will be down from 5 p.m. Friday until 7 a.m. Monday.

“It will take a little bit of time for the (Integrated Data Store) to repopulate” with fresh information early next week, Broome-Edwards said. “But we are doing everything we can to attempt to see that what happened for the last month does not happen again.”

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