Staff Writer

CONNEAUT -- New houses are popping up in Conneaut at a rate not seen in nearly five years, officials said.

With the year less than five months old, the city has already exceeded last year's total for building permits, said William Johnston, housing/zoning inspector. To date, 11 permits have been issued, compared to 10 for all of 2005, he said.

More applications are expected, Johnston said. "I can see more in the pipeline," Johnston said.

The city expects to top the 12-house total of 2004, but may find it hard to match the 17 permits issued in 2002 -- a vintage year for the local building trade.

Houses taking shape this year can be found in every corner of the city and come in a variety of sizes and price ranges, Johnston said. A handful of $200,000-plus houses are ahead, led by a $430,000 dwelling planned for Horton Road, he said.

One house is expected to occupy some of the land that once contained Lakeview Elementary School, demolished in 2004.

Most of the new houses will be built by people already living in the city, Johnston said.

Last year, the most expensive new house was a $250,000 project. The total value of the 2004 houses approached $1.1 million, a figure already topped this year.

The dozen permits issued in 2004 were valued at $1.8 million. The 17 applications in 2002 carried a $2.2 million price tag.

A housing slump occurred in 2003, when only seven housing permits were issued at a value of $800,000, Johnston said.

The economy has probably spurred people into a construction frame of mind, Johnston said.

"Interest rates have been good, and people are taking advantage of that," he said. "Plus, I think they're sensing a potential uptick in the economy."

The arrival of spring also prompts people to think about new houses, Johnston said. "When springtime weather starts kicking in, it's an impetus for people," he said.

The number of permit applications to remodel existing houses or erect storage buildings is similar to last year's totals, Johnston said.

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