Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, Albemarle County saw a residential building boom in 2020, issuing permits for the most dwellings in one year in nearly 20 years.
The county issued 522 building permits for 1,342 housing units last year, while 680 certificates of occupancy were issued for 1,143 housing units.
That represents the most units given building permits in one year since 2002, when 1,720 units were given permits, and the second most units given building permits in one year in the last 30 years.
“Year over year, what we’ve been seeing is that, even though we’ve been in COVID world, our permits have actually increased in volume at a time when everybody else was shut down, so our workload has continued,” said Jodie Filardo, Albemarle’s community development director.
Since 2007, certificates of occupancy have been issued for about 8,430 units in Albemarle. Almost 80% of those are in the county’s development areas, where growth is focused, and about 71% of overall units built in that time are single-family houses and townhouses.
In Charlottesville, building permits were issued for approximately 450 units in 2020, including 180 apartments at Dairy Central and the first phase of the redevelopment of South First Street, according to an analysis of city data.
Building permits are issued when a project starts construction, while certificates of occupancy are issued when a new house may be occupied.
About 59% of the new units issued building permits and certificates of occupancy in Albemarle in 2020 are multi-family units.
Filardo said the county has a little more than 40 different types of applications in Community Development, and building permits are “by far” its highest-volume generator.
“It generates work all the way down the line and winds up becoming of value to the county because these turn into property tax, and property taxes are our single largest source of revenue for the county,” she said.
Anecdotally, Filardo said, it takes about two years for a standard, single-family residential unit to go from getting a building permit to being occupiable.
With long-range planning, the county has been able to predict much of this influx in new housing units. Community Development works with fire and rescue, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and other entities during new project approvals to plan for growth.
“The county is always challenged to balance our response to the needs that are forecast because no one wants to build the bridge to nowhere,” County Spokesperson Emily Kilroy said. “You don’t want to make the improvement before you know that the need is going to be there, and so that’s a constant balance.”
The county currently has 19 positions frozen due to the pandemic, but it’s considering hiring building inspectors if those positions become vacant, and are actively recruiting building inspectors because there’s a long lead time to get new hires up to speed.
The building industry has been making a comeback since the Great Recession, Kilroy said, when it was heavily affected. Last year was the third year in a row that more than 1,000 housing units received building permits.
“The county, early in the pandemic days, said, ‘What do we need to do to keep the economy running — let’s not be the reason that a piece of our economy fails,’” she said. “There was a really intentional effort to position community development to be able to continue to work in order to support what we really viewed as an area of the community that generates a lot of jobs and a lot of activity that’s beneficial for the vibrancy of that community.”
The Breeden Company is working on multiple projects in the county that received building permits and certificates of occupancy in 2020, including Berkmar Landing Apartments and Presidio Apartments.
“We had to acclimate to what we had to do to take care of everything [with the pandemic], but we just never stopped moving along with our projects,” said Christine Gustafson, corporate marketing and public relations director at The Breeden Company.
Berkmar Landing is set to be 261 units, with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Breeden applied for mixed-income financing through the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s Workforce 20/80 program, and if it receives the financing, 53 one-bedroom units will be available to households that make at or below 80% of area median income.
Breeden estimates those apartments will be completed in early 2022.
Presidio will be 250 units behind Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. Breeden is the construction management firm on the project and estimates it will be completed in the fall of 2022.
Just because a residential project is issued a building permit does not mean it’s going to be open for dwellers shortly. For example, the Lofts at Meadowcreek, a 65-unit apartment complex on East Rio Road was issued a building permit in 2015, but it didn’t get its certificate of occupancy until mid-2020.
Another small apartment complex, the Collective on Commonwealth, received its certificate of occupancy for its 21, two-bedroom units along Commonwealth Drive in 2020. According to its website, rents are between $1,450 and $1,625.
Certificates of occupancy were issued in 2020 to most of two new apartment complexes, Archer at Brookhill and the Summit at Old Trail.
Archer is a 316-unit apartment complex along U.S. 29, north of the Rivanna River. It’s part of the Brookhill property rezoning that was approved in 2016. According to its website, rents currently range from $1,259 for a one-bedroom apartment up to $2,089 for a three-bedroom.
The Summit is a 190-unit apartment complex in Old Trail in Crozet. Rents are not currently listed on its website.
Also in Crozet, The Vue received most of its certificates of occupancy for its 126 units in 2020. Rents at the complex near downtown Crozet range from $1,295 for a one-bedroom up to $1,675 for a two-bedroom, according to its website.