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From left, Tommy Pirtle, Arthur Tidwell and Corey Tidwell, with Sides Construction, at work in a neighborhood off Mooresville Road in Athens.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
From left, Tommy Pirtle, Arthur Tidwell and Corey Tidwell, with Sides Construction, at work in a neighborhood off Mooresville Road in Athens.

With permits down, lots for homes sought

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com· 340-2442

With Decatur’s growth long influenced by its proximity to rail, road and river traffic, it’s no surprise the city could soon capitalize again from its convenient spot on the state map.

But a decline in building permits for single-family homes and questions of immediate lot availability have city leaders talking about accommodating new residents.

Decatur has invested thousands of dollars on marketing its image and recreational venues to potential residents, including those moving to North Alabama as a result of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure project.

Decatur Mayor Don Kyle predicts 500 new homeowners if merely 5 percent of the military families relocating to nearby Redstone Arsenal choose to reside here.

Another batch of potential buyers has sights set on the River City’s comfortable confines.

Debbie Lake of Decatur Re/Max said Florida retirees are relocating miles from the Gulf Coast, where hurricane-related storm damage is escalating insurance premiums.

But before Decatur can capitalize on the anticipated influx, the city must buck a national trend of decreasing new home sales, according to a Jan. 5 report from the National Association of Home Builders.

“As you look at Alabama starts for single-family homes, the drop certainly is not drastic,” said Stephen Melman, director of economics for NAHB. “It’s certainly downward, but it’s no more pronounced (than) nationally.”

Single-family home construction in Alabama fell from 27,100 in 2005 to 26,300 through the early fall of 2006, according to the latest data available, Melman said.

“We’re clearly looking at single-family sales nationally being down 17 percent in 2006 from 2005,” Melman said. “We’re predicting it roughly to bounce back, but we’re not predicting a year-to-year drop.”

He said the NAHB is suggesting that sometime in the second quarter new home sales will pick up.

“We’re not seeing a decline that is suggesting maybe that sales have hit rock bottom out of the fourth quarter of 2006,” he said.

Decatur Building Department figures show single-family home permits dropped 27 percent in 2006 from the previous calendar year.

Jimmy Brothers, Decatur’s Building Department director, said the difference is in developers building fewer town homes. The reason for the town-home decline could be a market trend, said Russell Davis, executive vice president for the Alabama Home Builders Association.

“Decatur has had a good town-home market for 20 years, but we’re seeing more diverse housing, particularly in patio and zero lot line homes,” Davis said. “It’s just a market style and not a huge shift in industry.”

City building inspector Amos Morris said Decatur has, over the past 10 years, absorbed about 200 homes into the market annually.

City Councilman Gary Hammon is concerned about the number of available lots, and Brothers agrees.

“I don’t think we’ve got as many (new lots) in growth areas as we need to have to get ready for BRAC,” Brothers said.

City Planner Steve Kelso said Decatur has roughly 150 lots ready for developers to start building homes, mostly in the Southwest portion of the city off Spring Avenue and McEntire Road.

“We have an additional 330 lots or so that have been through the layout process,” which the City Council rezoned Monday for areas off South Chapel Hill and Shady Grove roads, Kelso said.

“It may bring in 40 lots for the first phase,” Kelso said. “And with Deerfoot developing out from June 1, it’s a good positive for Decatur.”

Connecting road

Hammon is proposing a 3,700-foot road to connect Tomahawk Trail with Summerwind Drive in the Burningtree Valley subdivision of Southeast Decatur. This could spur development of 200 homes, which would be convenient for BRAC commuters.

“The mayor has worked fastidiously on several developments in town to enhance retail growth here, but we have not addressed homeownership growth,” Hammon said. “And my thought is that the Tomahawk project is an excellent way to do that.”

Mayor Don Kyle said the Planning Commission has made the connector a priority. He said City Engineer Mark Petersohn is evaluating what the city can do to spur development.

“I hope it’s something we can do, as well as the Auburn
(Drive) to Modaus (Road) connector,” Kyle said. “The series of developments total 500 new single-family lots, which are all in various stages of the process. It will be a significant addition to the inventory of the city.”

Hammon said he believes the city could build the Tomahawk Trail connector for about $300,000, trimming half the cost from paying a contractor for the work.

“With it right by the interstate, it would be access to upper-income development for the BRAC people within the city limits,” Hammon said.

“A proposed Burningtree-Flint school will never be built unless we have growth in that area.”

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