City Manager John Glascock’s decision last week to stop issuing new building permits during the coronavirus pandemic has contractors in the city wondering what the future holds.
While builders and contractors will be allowed to continue projects they started before March 25, Glascock’s order said that new permits will be issued only for building alterations that are necessary to maintain or improve the health and safety of those buildings.
Stan Shawver, Boone County Resource Management director, said the county has not yet followed the city’s lead and continues to issue building permits. The county is considering whether to make the move, though.
“As with every situation at this point in time, things are changing fairly rapidly,” Shawver said.
The city standstill could have implications for scores of Columbia and Boone County businesses.
Tompkins Construction owner Shaun Tompkins said he was initially surprised by Glascock’s order.
“After thinking about it a little bit, I guess the goal is limiting people being out as much as possible, and suspending new building permits is less of an issue, at least short term, than stopping all work on all construction sites,” Tompkins said. “We are very grateful that the current regulations are allowing us to work on existing projects while following safety guidelines.”
Tompkins said the impact of the order, if it persists, will come sooner for some than others.
“If the city continues to not allow new permits long enough, then it will eventually mean layoffs for crews that work on the early stages of a project. Excavators and foundation crews would be impacted first, followed by framing crews, but the schedule gap would eventually hit for all stages of a project,” Tompkins said.
Ashton Long, owner of Garrott Construction, said the order will definitely impact his business.
“They kinda went and deemed us essential, and then they made it so we can’t work,” Long said. “We can basically finish up what we have to do and after that have to figure out how to make money sitting on the couch.”
Long said contractors tend to establish their own niches. The fact that the city has suspended new permits while the county has not could create some new dynamics in the competition among contractors.
“Say they work in the county vs. the city for the most part, but what’ll happen is all the guys who are then not working in one section will have to supplement their income, and they’ll jump over to somebody else’s spot and put them out of work. ... We’ll all be competing for less work. You either don’t go to work or you go to work for less, and this is already a pretty cutthroat business.”
While the coming weeks might be slow, Tompkins predicted there will be high demand for new construction and permits once the stay-at-home order lifts.
“I think everybody will be relieved when we get to that point,” Tompkins said.
The order for now is scheduled to expire April 24, but it could be extended.