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Permit mill slows down - Census pegs drop in new building at 88 percent

The Wild West atmosphere of Brooklyn residential development seems to have gone the way of the buffalo, according to recent building permit data.

The issuance of new permits in October 2008 is down a staggering 88 percent compared to the ‘Age of the Bulldozer,’ October 2004, U.S. Census Bureau data reveals.

In October 2008, 26 permitted buildings, or 127 permitted units, were issued, compared to 210 buildings and 675 units, for the same month in 2004, the data shows.

Back in October 2005, permits for 126 buildings were issued, and in 2003, 111 permits during the same month.

October 2008 numbers are now in line with data from over a decade ago: 24 permits were issued back in October 1997, Census data shows.

The recent numbers are off 63 percent compared to just last year, when 42 permitted buildings and 344 permitted units were issued.

Crain’s New York Business last week examined the citywide numbers, which showed a 70 percent drop when comparing October 2008 with the same month in 2007.

The report cites frozen credit markets, more stringent lending requirements by banks, the end of the 421-a subsidy program, and a glut of existing units as factors for the slowdown.

Residential permits are considered an indicator of future construction activity, the report notes.

So far in 2008, permits for 617 residential buildings were granted, according to the Census data.

In all of 2007, 1079 new building permits were issued, according to the Census Bureau. The two peak years were 2005, when 1,638 new building permits were issued and 2004, when 1,407 permits received the blessing of DOB.

In 1997, just 328 new building permits were granted, the data shows.

Rich Schulhoff, the CEO of the Brooklyn Board of Realtors, said the inventory of existing units is about 10 percent higher than a year ago.

“That is a number were saw in the early 1990s,” he said.

Such fluctuations are nothing new, he noted.

 “It’s the cyclical way of business. We’re coming off historic highs,” he said.

A glut doesn’t necessarily mean a bargain for buyers, he noted. Prices, he noted, are down just 4 percent. “I think there may have to be a bit more of a decline in prices before the market picks up again. Whether that 10 or 12 percent, I don’t know.”

Aaron Brashear, the chair of Buildings and Construction committee of Community Board 7, lived through the building boom. He co-founded the Concerned Citizens of Greenwood Heights in response to the wave of new projects he said forever changed the character of his once quaint, at one time diverse, block, 23rd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues.

He shed no tears when asked about the steep decline in permits.

“Slower growth means more responsible growth and it gives the community, time to evolve and to change,” he said.

Within six months of when Brashear moved to the neighborhood, 32 new units in 4 new buildings were being constructed, he said. Four years ago, Brashear and his wife, in their 30s and early 40s, were two of the youngest people on the block. Now they are the two of the oldest, he observed.

Any vestiges of the block’s working class character have been erased. “It’s not the neighborhood we bought into,” he said.

“From a density standpoint, I feel like I’m in Fort Greene now. In five years, it may feel like I’m living in Park Slope. Is that a negative?” Brashear wondered. “I guess that’s a matter of opinion.”

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