Construction on the quietside is way up

TREMONT — Construction costs here have increased more than 100 percent over 2019 numbers and more than 300 percent over last year’s numbers, indicating the area may not be called the quietside for much longer. 

Construction costs are the estimated value of a building project that is part of the permitting process. “Anything that requires a building permit,” explained Code Enforcement Officer Jesse Dunbar, who is now also serving as the town manager.  

“I would say the major jump would be the number of large waterfront homes,” he added. “My guess is that would be a reflection of the pandemic and people coming here.” 

For fiscal year 2019, which went from July 2018 to June 2019, estimated construction costs were $2,367,562. Last year, one in which most projects were curtailed by the pandemic, the town’s estimated construction costs were $1,507,055. This last fiscal year, spanning mid-2020 to the end of this June, those costs went up to $5,543,883.  

Shortly after the pandemic began last spring, the town saw a significant increase in vehicle registration transfers. After there had been incidents of aggression towards people from out of state traveling to Maine, whether or not they were seasonal residents, many part-time residents chose to change their vehicle registration to Maine.  

Now, there are a few recent transplants building new homes in town. Two of those homes make up the lion’s share of the large increase in construction costs — estimated at $1 million each. Even without those two homes, construction costs for the town are still $1 million more than they were in 2019.  

“I’m sure the rising cost of lumber is another factor; building materials in general,” said Dunbar. 

It isn’t just the cost of construction. It’s also the number of building permits issued during the last fiscal year – 70 – that is significantly higher than the two previous years. In 2019, there were 40 building permits issued by the code enforcement officer and only 20 in fiscal year 2020. The most common building permit issued was for an accessory structure, such as a shed or greenhouse, according to Dunbar. After that, decks, additions to a house and new dwelling units made up the bulk of the building permits issued.  

As far as town populations go on Mount Desert Island, Tremont has the lowest number with around 1,600, according to the 2018 census. Bar Harbor, a town with an estimated construction cost of $35 million in 2019, has a population of 5,535, according to that same census. Construction costs in 2020 were only about $150,000 less than that amount. This year’s costs, which are tracked by calendar year instead of a fiscal year cycle, are already at $26 million, which could also indicate a higher number than the last two years by the time December arrives.  

As for building permits issued in Bar Harbor, there were 45 new dwelling units for both 2019 and 2020. In 2019, there were more industrial/commercial building permits issued with 79 versus 65 in 2020. But, similar to the focus in Tremont, more permits for garages/additions and other improvements were issued in 2020 at 208 than the 160 issued in 2019.  

In Mount Desert, more building permits were issued in 2019 – 138 – than in 2018 (109) or 2020 (112). 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.