Report: Commercial construction in 2016 made up for housing decline

January 8, 2017 GMT

Residential construction in Billings during the first 11 months in 2016 decreased by about 25 percent from the same period in 2015, but a strong year in commercial construction kept builders and the people who issue construction permits hopping.

The Planning and Community Services Department issued its 2016 annual report last month. In broad strokes, the report outlines services provided to residents and firms in Billings, Yellowstone County and Broadview.

Wyeth Friday, the department’s director, said that while construction “has been tracking below last year’s activity levels for the last few months,” overall building valuation for 2016 was about $20 million above the 2015 level. Through November, the Building Department issued 297 single-family dwelling permits, about 100 fewer than last year.

But 61 commercial buildings were permitted during the first 11 months of 2016, said Brian Anderson, building official, including 32 with a valuation in excess of $1 million.

In addition to two new hotels, the larger projects included a 126-unit apartment complex at West Park Promenade and a new Catholic school on Colton Boulevard.

After a pair of hail storms in 2016, the department issued more than 4,200 residential roofing and siding permits. That was just a fraction of the more than 11,000 permits issued during the more serious 2014 hail storm.

Building Division officials lowered roofing and siding permit fees last year from $45 to $20, and they planned to slice $5 off the price beginning in January.

In early 2017, the Building Division plans to replace its fleet of small economy cars with 4-wheel drive trucks to give inspectors better and safer access to construction sites. It’s also developing mobile applications to enable inspectors to complete inspections in the field and better manage their schedule.

Other divisions reported on their 2016 highlights, too:

The Community Development Division used part of its $1.23 million housing budget to rehabilitate seven homes and help 45 families achieve home ownership after receiving first-time homebuyer educations.Although the federal Community Transportation Enhancement Program (CTEP) came to an end in 2016, it’s been responsible for 72 projects in and around Billings worth about $13.3 million. The final projects, completed in 2016, were a trail connecting the Kiwanis Trail in the Heights with Joe Medicine Crow Middle School and improved landscaping at Broadwater Elementary School.As of November, the Billings Metro VISTA Project has placed 177 members with 43 host sites over the past seven years. VISTA members help reduce poverty and homelessness by raising money, generating volunteers and creating or expanding services in financial literacy, housing, employment, education, food security and access to healthcare. To date, VISTA members have generated more than $3.5 million to support social services alleviating poverty.With the help of community volunteers and experienced bicycle mechanics, Kids in Motion, an active transportation educational program, brought bicycle tune-up clinics to eight schools in 2016 and helped repair more than 250 bicycles.Within Billings city limits, 255 new residential lots were made available, up from 211 in 2015.The Code Enforcement Division reported that graffiti vandalism was up 123 percent in 2016. Weeds were the top complaint that the division fielded in 2016, followed by RVs and trailers parked for extended periods on city streets, with right-of-way obstructions placing third.