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February 16, 2014

Construction building in Leelanau

TRAVERSE CITY — Leelanau County’s wealth of waterfront property is making a splash with potential homeowners.

Construction in the county is up as the local economy continues to recover from the housing market crash.

“People are building homes again and the projects are larger,” said Marty Easling, owner of Easling Construction Company in Leland. “In ‘09 it dropped and we had maybe one home going and the rest were small remodeling projects. Now we’re building homes for spring.”

The shift reflects the growing number of inspections performed by county building personnel.

“There’s been a tremendous upswing in construction in Leelanau County,” said county Administrator Chet Janik. “There’s a need to hire an additional staff person.”

Steven Haugen, the building official at the county’s Construction Code Authority, said he conducted 525 more inspections in 2013 than in 2012. Now, the county is looking to contract a full-time plan reviewer/building inspector to handle the increased volume.

“The economy’s getting a little better and people are putting up buildings,” Haugen said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the population of the county.”

Janik suspects the recession prompted people to veer from remodeling and construction projects, but economic recovery means property owners are spending more freely.

Haugen said personnel from his office conducted about 7,000 inspections in the last year, jobs that can range from checking a building’s foundation to its insulation.

“With plan reviews and everything office-wise, we had a really hard time during the busy times last year keeping up,” Haugen said.

Easling said he’s mostly building second homes on waterfront property.

Charlie Reinertson, owner and CEO of Maple City-based Harbor Construction, said most of his new work is on larger home projects.

“I think the good thing is construction is picking up, but the bad thing for us (who live here) is it’s pretty much all high-end stuff,” Reinertson said. “It used to be a pretty good market for mid-range homes.”

Residential housing comprises the majority of activity in Leelanau County, but there’s also been an increase in commercial construction, said Todd Plamondon, and estimator at Biggs Construction in Lake Leelanau.

And people aren’t just building in Leelanau, they’re buying. According to statistics from the Traverse Area Association of Realtors, 59 percent of homes listed sold in 2013, compared to only 38 percent in 2010.

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