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Construction demand promising

Homer sees shift to smaller, energy efficient housing

Posted: September 8, 2011 - 9:41am

HOMER (AP) — Foundations going in, walls going up, roofs going on. Who knew this year’s construction season was going to be so busy?

Not Steve Bowen of Little Knife Construction. Every job that came Bowen’s way this spring, he took.

As it’s turned out, the seven projects — some done by his company, some done as a project manager for Bruce Petska of Big Mountain Builders — are not only keeping Bowen busy, but also boosting his reputation as a builder.

“He’s been running my projects and doing most of the work this summer,” said Petska. “A lot of people are starting to know him.”

For Petska, the tempo of this year’s construction season is just about what he’d anticipated, with the bulk of his work focused on building homes or garages.

“It’s been right on par with about an average or as busy a year as we’ve had,” said Petska. To keep busy, however, meant “we had to become a little more resourceful” and plan ahead “to make sure you can get a project off the ground. And we do some of our own construction financing, so that simplifies it.”

Three of the projects have been homes on Fairview Avenue — one near the high school, two near Fairview’s intersection with Hohe Street.

“People are looking for new, energy-efficient houses,” said Bowen. “Having that (energy efficient) quality opens up the door for financing.”

The combination of energy efficiency, square footage — something in the 1,000-1,400 square foot range — and an affordable lot seems to be a winning combination right now.

“That’s the other thing we’re up against in Homer, area lots available in a price range you can build an entry-level house on,” said Petska. “If you get over $135,000-$145,000, you start to run out of clients. It’s tough to build something for less than that in Homer. That’s the fine line right now.”

Putting together that kind of a price requires advance planning.

“People aren’t aware a lot of times that they can get one for that price range if they work with the builder ahead of time,” said Petska.

Some new construction indicates a coming increase in the city’s population, such as the house Rod Bennett of Bennett Construction is building for his two sisters. The 1,500-square-foot house is being done for his two sisters who grew up in Alaska, but currently live in Wasilla and Alabama.

Smaller, more energy-efficient homes and new multi-unit housing developments suggest a possible trend toward affordable housing for low- to middle-income families and away from vacation and high-end retirement homes. Several large commercial projects and an increase in residential construction indicate more building going on in the city of Homer this year compared to 2010.

City of Homer building permits for 2010 show the following: New residential permits for 2011 to date are 28 for a total of $5.5 million, compared to 17 permits at the same time last year.

Commercial zoning permits are 4, for a total of $3.5 million, compared to two at the same time last year.

The record low for residential permits was 16 in 1993 and the record high was 51 in 2005.

Sheldon Beachy of Beachy Construction also was surprised at the number of projects in which his company is involved this year.

“It started out a little slower, but right now we’re almost swamped. We’re pretty busy,” said Beachy.

The work he and his crew of eight to 10 employees are doing range from a smaller three-bedroom, two-bath home to a couple of 4,500-square-foot homes for retirees moving to Homer to a large remodel job that will be a 15,000-square-foot combined residence and bed and breakfast.

“We’re not complaining,” said Beachy of the workload.

In addition to single-family dwellings, several large construction projects are under way. The Kenai Peninsula Housing Initiative is currently building Alderbrook Apartments, a six-plex, and MainTree Supportive Housing, said Steven Rouse, KPHI executive director. The projects were competitively advertised. Architectural work was done by the Anchorage firm Bezek Durst Seiser; construction is being done by Sundance Construction of Kasilof; Shank Electric of Homer is doing the electrical work.

“There is definitely a need for high quality, affordable rental properties in Homer and this is evidence of that fact,” said Rouse. “We anticipate this to be the first phase and we are preparing to add another duplex in a couple of years at the same site.”

MainTree is a $1.9 million remodel and expansion project that is turning a four-plex formerly owned by South Peninsula Behavioral Health into a 10-unit supportive housing facility. Similar to KPHI’s Brookside, built in 2004 on Mattox Road, it will offer independent living with supportive services on site for beneficiaries of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, individuals who are either developmentally disabled or have a mental condition requiring living skills training and medication management, said Rouse. Construction is scheduled to be complete by spring of 2012.

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