Wilsonville development continues despite COVID-19
Though Gov. Kate Brown's recent executive orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have restricted schools, restaurants, retail facilities, the entertainment industry and other sectors, they did not specifically limit the construction industry.
This means that construction in Wilsonville's new Frog Pond West residential neighborhood, which is north of Boeckman Road and west of Advance Road, is continuing largely unimpeded. Currently, a 36-lot development (Morgan Farm) and a 44-lot development (Stafford Meadows) are under construction, while two more developments that will total at least 114 lots are on the horizon.
Ezra Hammer, the vice president of policy and government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland, explained why he thinks keeping development going is important.
For one, he said construction activity can take place under social distancing requirements because work is done largely outdoors and in spacious environments. Stephanie Hosmar, marketing and sales manager for Stafford Meadows builder West Hills Homes NW, said the company is implementing social distancing and sanitation measures and the fact that there are only a few homes currently under construction makes it easier to abide by guidelines.
"There's naturally not many people on site at a time," Hosmar said.
However, she has heard of construction projects in more dense areas pausing due to the challenges of maintaining personal space.
Another benefit of keeping construction going, Hammer said, is the potential need for medical services and emergency housing infrastructure.
"Emergency homeless shelters, emergency triage spaces for patients and hospitals are going to be absolutely critical," Hammer said. "There's going to be physical structures done to build the spaces to defeat COVID-19."
Hammer, though, expected development activity to slow regionally with fewer workers on site and fewer available. He also surmised that a potential slowdown of the governmental approval processes caused by the cancellation or postponement of meetings and municipal staff shortages could stall construction.
City of Wilsonville Community Development Director Chris Neamtzu and Building Official Dan Carlson did not expect that to happen in Wilsonville.
Neamtzu said the City's Development Review Boards, which approve development applications, likely will continue to hold meetings remotely and Carson said the building department is continuing inspections at the same rate as it previously had. The city also is offering virtual inspections for sites city officials already have examined in person.
"It's not going to slow us down any. We have staffing capacity and have backup plans in place. Staff can work remotely if necessary and are able to conduct field inspection with iPads and using technology," Carlson said.
Carlson also said inspection loads have continued at a steady rate since coronavirus concerns and restrictions proliferated.
"Our goal is to keep development happening, to keep construction sites working and to not get in the way of that but to facilitate it," he said.
Like Hammer, Hosmar expected the pace of development to slow a bit, partially due to construction contractors being shorthanded.
"Part of that is we've seen a slight slowdown — some shorthanded subcontractors pushing out work a couple weeks," she said.
Hosmar said just over 10 homes have been sold in Stafford Meadows, four are under construction, three are finished and still on the market, and construction of the remaining homes hasn't begun.
She said West Hills NW is still selling homes and that virtual tours make it easier for customers to move forward with the purchasing process without stepping foot in a home. However, she has heard some potential buyers express hesitation due to the plummeting stock market and said that required walk-throughs at the end of the process can be tricky due to social distancing.
"Things have stayed pretty stable. There's a lot of fear out there, but we want to maintain any sense of normalcy we can, and we know people still need homes and want homes," Hosmar said. "Everyone is experiencing economic impact one way or another."
Hammer said disruptions to the supply chain caused by trade restrictions also could hinder development efforts.
"A great deal of construction material comes from overseas and comes from countries that have been hit by COVID-19," he said.
Overall, though production of homes and buildings is continuing, Hammer expected the coronavirus and a related economic downturn to hit the development industry hard.
"A great number of folks in construction employ less than 50 people. Those businesses have less capacity to weather economic downturns," he said.
"We expect there to be significant hits across the board. As the economy takes a turn for the worse, we would anticipate our industry would be impacted as well."
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