OGB Applications Suggest Uptick in Activity

While GM was digging into the minutes of the Old Georgetown Board the other day, he started charting the board’s activity over the last several years. When you gather that data, it gives a picture of how commercial and residential construction has fluctuated over that time period. Plotting it all out shows that this activity hit bottom this winter but has shown a strong rebound through this spring. More on this and other interesting information after the jump:

GM reviewed all the minutes from the OGB from January 2007 through last month. For those not familiar with it, the Old Georgetown Board is a committee that was formed by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to review and approve all visible-from-the-street changes to buildings within the Old Georgetown district. Over the course of the two and a half years since January 2007, somewhere around 700 projects were reviewed by the board (the number isn’t exact since some projects appear multiple times before the board). Here is a chart of the total number of projects presented to the board over time:

Total Applications to the OGB

If you squint, you can see a seasonal flux in the applications, with it rising through the first half of each calendar year and declining in the second half. The two peaks can be somewhat ignored because they represent September 2007 and September 2008. The board doesn’t meet in August and so there is generally a backlog of applications for the September meeting.

From the graph, you can see that the trough of last winter was deeper than the previous two winters. The slowest month through the whole period was February this year when only 13 projects came before the board for review. That seems consistent with the state of the wider economy. Fewer residents are planning renovations and even fewer businesses are setting up new storefronts.

The encouraging part of the graph is the sharp and consistent uptick since February. Ignoring the two September meetings, June’s total of 31 applications was the third busiest month since January 2007. Could this be another green shoot we’ve been all told to look out for?

One more interesting set of data that GM found is the rate at which home or business owners show up red-faced in front of the board. On a rather consistent basis, contractors start and even finish work before the project is approved by the OGB. You can find those projects fairly easily in tCommission Regrets...he board’s minutes because they also include the phrase “the Commission regrets”, as in “the Commission regrets that the awnings were installed prior to review or permit”. Since January 2007, 96 projects have been so admonished, which represents 13% of all projects reviewed by the board. Unsurprisingly, the rejection level of such projects is much higher than the overall rate. The board rejected 34% of the projects that were started without approval; it only rejected 9% of all the other cases.

Despite this losing strategy, it appears that there’s been a steady increase in such unpermitted projects since January of 2007. Here’s a chart of all the “regrets” cases over the last two and a half years, with a trend line showing a steady rise from a monthly average of 2.5 to one above 4:

Regrets Cases

Conclusion: Georgetown may be in the middle of a steady recovery and if you feel like participating, read up on the rules! You don’t want to be one of the red-faced applicants staring at a 34% rejection rate.

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