August 23, 2004
The nation’s fastest-growing town may start growing at an even quicker pace.
Gilbert is on track this year to issue a record number of single-family home building permits, an indication that a record number of homes will likely be constructed — and occupied — in the coming year.
The town — which has been named by the U.S. Census Bureau as the fastest-growing municipality of more than 100,000 people — issued more than 500 permits in four of the past five months, including 515 in May, 504 in June and 524 in July.
Gilbert has issued 3,235 permits during the first seven months of 2004 and is on pace to issue 5,545 this year, which would shatter the 7-year-old record by more than 1,300 permits.
The town issued 3,859 permits last year.
"They just keep coming," said Ray Patten, Gilbert building and code compliance director. "Whether the trend continues or not, I have no idea."
Neither does the association that lobbies on behalf of homebuilders.
"It’s whatever the market will bear," said Erin Patterson, deputy director of municipal affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.
"It’s one of those things you can’t really predict."
In March, Gilbert exceeded 500 permits in a month for the first time since September 1997.
Patten said the 789 permits issued that month likely represented an attempt by homebuilders to beat a significant impact fee increase.
In the last three months of 1997, the town issued a combined 532 permits.
This year, when Gilbert exceeded 500 permits in March and then again in May, the town realized the increase was no fluke.
In June, the Town Council authorized the immediate hiring of a building inspector and an additional $7,000 in overtime for town employees who process the permits.
Town Manager George Pettit said the continuing high numbers are not expected to lead to additional emergency hires.
"We’ll see what happens, but we think we’re staffed to deal with it," he said.
The building permit increases are too recent to show up in Gilbert’s population estimates.
Patten said after a permit is processed, it typically takes between six and nine months before a home is occupied.
Pettit said the town is continuing to issue about 300 certificates of occupancy per month, which is used by the town to tabulate population growth.
That number has translated into about 1,000 new residents a month.
Mayor Steve Berman said the rapid growth has not handcuffed the town financially because of revenue generated by impact fees attached to each new home.
But without more economic development, there could be problems later on. "Once those fees stop, if we don’t have a replacement revenue stream, that will be scary," Berman said.
A slowdown — at least a short one — may be coming. Patten said the town is on pace this month to issue about 350 permits, the lowest number since January.
Patten said the majority of this year’s permits are for houses in the south and southeast part of town, including the Power Ranch, Seville and Spectrum communities.