Norway housing, new residents on the rise

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NORWAY — Over the last three years, the number of people moving to or building a house in Norway has been on the rise, according to Code Enforcement Officer Scott Tabb.

Tabb said that as of Aug. 28, he had issued 91 permits, including 24 permits for new homes.

That number “already exceeds the total number of new home permits from the previous two years, and we’re only in September,” Tabb said.

He said that in 2017, the town issued a total of 92 permits, including 18 new home permits.

In 2016, the total number of permits issued was 93, including 12 new home permits.

The permits issued include “any type of building construction, such as a shed, decks, stairs, or remodels,” Tabb said.

“I could go the rest of the year without having another permit filed, and we’d already be ahead of where we were in previous years,” Tabb said. “I’m also foreseeing three new home permits in the coming weeks, and we’re also looking at a subdivision expansion, which could add a lot to the town.”

The increase in permits over the last three years has helped put Norway in a financially sound place, despite a recent revaluation of the land surrounding North Pond resulting in a loss of more than a million dollars to the town.

Assessor Natalie Andrews said that normally, a drop in value that significant would have an impact on the town’s tax rate. However, she pointed out that Norway has more than made up for the loss with an increase in “real estate and personal property” taxes.

During an August Board of Selectmen meeting, Andrews said that the town’s tax rate throughout the 2018-19 fiscal year would remain at $17.20 per $1,000 of property valuation for the second consecutive year due to the growth in Norway.

Paris and Oxford

Kingston Brown, the Code Enforcement Officer of Paris, said that Norway’s neighbor had also seen a slight increase in new home permits, as well as permits filed in general, from 2016 to 2017.

In 2016, the total number of permits filed in Paris was 67, with five of the permits being new house permits.

The total number of permits in 2017 jumped to 82, with 12 of the permits being new house permits.

Brown said that so far, in 2018, 66 permits have been filed, and 10 of them have been for new houses, putting the town on pace with the previous year.

He added that two of the new house permits were conversions.

“One building was the old Fox School that is being converted into 12 livable apartments, and the other is a two-family apartment building at 1 Maple Street that is being converted into eight efficiency apartments.”

As for Oxford, Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman, who served as CEO in Norway prior to Tabb, said that her predecessor, Rodney Smith, did not keep a list or spreadsheet of new home permits prior to 2017.

“That makes it hard to determine exactly how many new home permits were filed before my tenure here,” Corey-Whitman said.

She said that in 2017, 26 new home permits were filed in Oxford, and that as of Sept. 4, she had issued 13 new home permits in 2018.

“While the number of new home permits are down so far compared to last year, we’ve actually made more money, since the homes that were being built are bigger,” Corey-Whitman said.

Downtown’s growth

Katie Letourneau and Scott Berk, the co-chairs of the Norway Downtown board, both cited the Main Street area as the element drawing new people to Norway.

“I think if you look at how Main Street is flourishing, with all of the new businesses coming in, and all of the work the town has done in saving the Gingerbread House, the Opera House, you can see where a lot of Norway’s growth came from,” Letourneau said. “We have better retention with old businesses and we’re able to bring in new businesses.”

She said that when new businesses come to town, she and other Norway Downtown members will ask why they chose Norway, “and usually, they tell us they like the quaintness of the town, and how it feels like everybody knows each other.”

Berk said that between the variety of businesses found on Main Street, the “different land trust activities, such as cross-country ski and mountain bike trails,” the gardens, farms, and interesting shops found throughout town, “you can see why people are recognizing Norway as a place that’s doing it right.”

He said that he chalks up the increase in new Norway residents to the “fact that people want community.”

“Community is hard-wired into us, and I feel like we lost a lot of that in the 70’s and 80’s,” he said. “I think people are rediscovering the importance of the downtown.”

Letourneau said that Norway Downtown has several committees that “are always working hard” to figure out what events to bring to Norway, how to get foot traffic from other towns, and how to continue growing.

“I think that the low interest rates in this area is helpful too,” said Letourneau, who also works at Norway Savings Bank. “We have a lot of people coming in for construction loans, and we also have a ton of modular home companies along Route 26 that are getting a lot of business as a result.”

Berk said that he has spoken with real estate people in the Oxford Hills and “they all say they’re selling a lot of houses in Norway, and the reason is the revitalization of Main Street.”

“I also serve on the Advisory Committee for Maine Downtown Center, and they say that there’s a lot of great buzz about Norway all the time, between the revitalization, the historic preservation, and the focus on Main Street,” Berk added.

mdaigle@sunmediagroup.net