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A framing crew adds shape to a home at the intersection of Country Vista and Bergamot in the Rocky Hill neighborhood of Liberty Lake. The house, along with several neighboring lots that are yet to be framed, has already been sold.

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Economic progress seen in building uptick
9/12/2012 11:21:29 AM

By Josh Johnson
Splash Staff Writer

Rudy Torres spends up to 60 percent of his time on loan.

Officially, the building permit specialist is employed by the city of Cheney, but after a memorandum of understanding was approved by the Liberty Lake City Council earlier this month, Torres could spend 24 hours of his workweek helping ease the workload for Spokane County's easternmost city.

Facing an unexpected surge in residential building activity in 2012, Liberty Lake officials looked to Cheney for help in keeping up with the steady flow of needed inspections and permits. Enter Torres, who Cheney agreed to loan Liberty Lake for $55 an hour.

The permit fees more than cover the cost to borrow Torres, as a recent report by city of Liberty Lake Finance Director RJ Stevenson reveals. Stevenson said that through Aug. 31 - two-thirds of the way through the city's fiscal year - Liberty Lake has collected $247,000 in permitting revenue. The city anticipated collecting $180,000 all year.


While permit revenue can come from commercial projects, Stevenson said it is residential growth, primarily in the single family housing market, that is fueling the uptick. He pointed to a Copper Basin Construction project on Legacy Ridge and particularly the two major Liberty Lake developments by Greenstone Homes and Neighborhoods - Rocky Hill and the River District - as the major growth areas.

Permitting hasn't come close to the levels seen between 2006 and 2008, when an average of 1,204 projects were inspected each year compared to an average of 679 between 2009 and 2011. In 2008, commercial permits brought in nearly $520,000 versus a meager $17,000 in 2011. With staffing levels trimmed and three years of a dwindling stream, Stevenson budgeted even lower permit revenue for 2012.

"I think we were conservative on budget estimates," he said. "We have a lot more activity than anticipated, and we are not staffed to that level. But I don't see things coming back to 2007 levels. That would take a lot of changes in the environment."

Splash photo by Josh Johnson
The groundwork is being set for The Courtyard at River District to take shape north of Bitterroot Lodge. The 47-unit community will feature apartments and townhomes for lease.

Drew Benado, land development manager for Greenstone Homes and Neighborhoods, said the Liberty Lake-based company is beginning to see such changes take hold. He said people are not only beginning to feel better about the economy, but many prospective buyers who were prevented from making a purchase during the recession from an inability to sell their existing home are seeing those credit-freeing transactions beginning to take place.

It's all added up in a big way for Greenstone. Benado said year-to-date sales in Rocky Hill are up 93 percent from the same time frame in 2011. In the River District, the trend is even better - sales are up 115 percent. Benado noted the purchases were being made by all types of buyers, from entry level to empty nesters, on all types of products, from townhomes and cottages priced below $200,000 to larger single family homes nearer $300,000. 

Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson said both sellers and buyers are benefiting from unfathomable interest rates.

"You couldn't go back to 1950 and find interest rates at 2.5 percent for a 30-year mortgage," Peterson said. "In my lifetime, I've never experienced 2.5 percent mortgages."

Peterson said the boom in building permits is as much about local identity as the recovering economy, however.

"People are choosing to live in Liberty Lake above other places," he said. "Why? It's clean, green and safe. That's what's driving our community. We invest in our community. We invest in the infrastructure."

Submitted rendering
Next spring, Greenstone Homes and Neighborhoods plans for The Courtyard at River District to look something like this.

Work under way on 47-unit Courtyard at River District

By Josh Johnson
Splash Staff Writer

The transformation of a 3-acre lot north of Bitterroot Lodge into a high-end, for-lease development has begun, and Greenstone Homes and Neighborhoods hopes to have the first units ready for lease by February or March of next year, said Drew Benado, the Liberty Lake company's land development manager.

When completed, The Courtyard at River District is planned to be a five-building, 47-unit housing development. Benado said Courtyard will be a "different product type" from its neighboring complex to the south in that it will feature 15 townhomes available for lease.

"It's more of a standard home than an apartment, but it's also maintenance free," Benado said.

The other 32 units will be variations of apartments. The community will not have a clubhouse like Bitterroot Lodge, and it is viewed by Greenstone as a standalone development, not a Bitterroot addition, Benado said.

While the streets have yet to be put in, The Courtyard at River District will be located southwest of the future intersection of Bitterroot Street and Indiana Avenue. For now, the development will be accessible by taking Bitterroot off of Mission Avenue, Benado said plans call for Indiana to connect with and extend through Harvard Road in the coming years.

The north side of Indiana is also slated to have a pedestrian trail that will eventually parallel the Centennial Trail through the River District, Benado said. Part of a master-planned community between Interstate 90 and the Spokane River, the River District's long-term plan extends from the Spokane Valley city limit to the west beyond Harvard Road to the east.

Benado said The Courtyard is aimed at a growing market of people looking to move into a home-like, maintenance-free lifestyle through a high-end lease.

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