By SHELLY WILKISON
City officials say new home construction is the reason why building permits have skyrocketed in the past year, and they expect the trend to continue into 2018.
Senior Planner Sally McFeron said the number of building permits so far this year is 408, and by year’s end the number could top 500.
By comparison, in 2016 only 95 permits were issued.
It’s history-making activity for the City of Liberty Hill.
Projected revenue from building permits in the current fiscal year was budgeted at $50,000, but actual revenue to date has far exceeded that — $411,245. In fiscal 2017, the budget shows a conservative projection of $300,000.
“It’s about the new subdivisions,” said McFeron. “It goes in spurts, but Larkspur had 70 permits come through in the second quarter; and Liberty Parke, Stonewall, also Orchard Ridge. Rosemont will be kicking off with 10-15 (permits) by the end of the year.”
McFeron also noted an increase on the commercial side with the addition of Schlotzsky’s, and construction by the Liberty Hill ISD among others.
The City of Liberty Hill has a fee structure and different processes and requirements for residential and commercial construction. But at the end of the day, the primary purpose at each level is to protect the safety of the residents and the public.
“Your safety is what it’s all about,” McFeron said. “Permits are required in the city and in our ETJ to make sure you have a successful project, and to make sure you’re abiding by local, state and federal building codes. Overall, it’s about protecting the safety of the occupants, to make sure it’s not going to catch on fire, burn down the city or flood your house. For commercial properties, it’s about protecting the public.”
McFeron said in addition to the permits required for new home construction, residents who want to remodel their homes also need a building permit.
She said replacing an air conditioning unit (not a window unit), doing a bathroom remodel, knocking down or putting up walls inside a structure, all require permits from the City.
“When you materially change or alter a building, knock down a wall in an existing building, you need a permit,” she said.
McFeron said in most cases, the contractor doing the work obtains the permit and the property owner typically might not be aware of the permitting process at all.
She said permits are needed for replacing a water heater, and replacing plumbing — “anything that requires the trades.” Those permit applications require detailed descriptions of the work being done, and information and licensing of the individual or company doing the work.
Inside the city limits, residents making substantive plumbing changes as in the case of a bathroom or kitchen remodel must have the plumbing inspected before it can be covered by sheetrock. McFeron said failure to comply with that requirement can be costly.
“The inspector will help you,” she said. “He’ll answer questions and put you in a good direction. The City is here for individuals in particular. We want to help make your project a success.”
Remodeling outside the city limits in Williamson County doesn’t require City permits. In fact, those home improvement projects aren’t regulated by the County.
On any given day, McFeron’s office is a maze of maps, plans and architectural drawings. And a white board covering one wall is a visual guide to all of the commercial projects she has in the works. Without a doubt, the City’s Planning Office is the central hub for all that’s developing in Liberty Hill.
McFeron, who joined the city staff two years ago, is the City planning department.
She works daily with developers of subdivisions and other commercial property, as well as neighboring cities and municipal utility districts that have agreements with Liberty Hill regarding wastewater service.
Just last year, she took over the responsibility of issuing building permits.
“At that time, we didn’t have that many, but things have just exploded,” she said. “It’s exciting when you get through it (the process), and you see something. Like Scholotzsky’s or Domino’s. It’s really cool to see it all coming in.”
At first glance, it would appear from all the documents that the City must surely be behind on issuing permits and approving plans, but McFeron says her turn-around time on most requests is faster than most area cities.
But she acknowledges that the workload is becoming increasingly challenging.
Earlier this year, the Council approved the purchase of MyPermits software that once in place will help streamline the process, and place everything in digital form.
Applicants will be able to complete an online permit application and pay the associated fees, and the City will have electronic records of things eliminating the paper files. McFeron said she hopes the new system will be in place and functioning by the end of the year.
She said with the upswing in new home construction, she has noticed an increase in the number of individuals seeking a permit for home improvement projects.
“People in Liberty Hill are seeing the growth and changes happening, they’re excited and they want to do more,” she said. “We do have more questions and things about building permits.”
She added that there is also increased interest in connecting in-city properties to the sewer. She said more residences are connecting.
McFeron said much of the information regarding the building permit process and UDC permitting is on the city’s website, but she doesn’t discourage anyone from coming in to talk to her directly about a project.
“The majority of people call or come in and talk. They like that better,” she said. “Liberty Hill is very open and has always been face to face in the past. I enjoy talking to people when they come in. It’s important for them to understand what they’re looking for.”
While McFeron is frequently asked, especially by The Independent, to confirm rumors regarding new businesses coming to town, she says she fields calls every day from a variety of people looking to come to Liberty Hill.
“But, the way I look at things is it’s not real until it hits this desk,” she said. “I field calls all day long, people checking out zoning or various pieces of property,” but nothing is official until a permit application is filed.
When the MyPermits system is up and running on the City’s website, the curious will be able to find the new businesses and developments being planned. While all that information and permit applications are all public information now, McFeron says it will be more easily accessible when it is stored online.
For a look at the City’s permitting fees and applications, visit the website.