Construction activity maintains usual levels during 2020 despite pandemic

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the havoc that it wreaked, which included forced shutdowns of construction projects, the Lawrence Township Construction Department issued only 106 fewer permits in 2020 than it did in 2019.

Construction Official Michael Rodgers outlined the Construction Department’s activities during 2020 and made a pitch for more staff at the Lawrence Township Council’s Feb. 9 meeting.

Each year, Township Council listens to municipal department heads during the annual budget review process. The department heads also report on their department’s activities during the prior year.

At the Township Council’s Feb. 9 meeting, Rodgers told the council that although construction decreased slightly in 2020 because of the pandemic, the Construction Department issued 2,096 construction permits – or 106 fewer permits than the previous year.

Construction activity in Lawrence Township slowed down between April 8 and May 18, when Gov. Phil Murphy shut it down to halt the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential construction activity was stopped during that period, but work on essential projects – schools, hospitals, affordable housing, transportation and emergency repairs – was allowed.

Asked about the impact of COVID-19 on the Construction Department’s activities, Rodgers told the council that work came to a halt for about a month or two at the beginning of the pandemic.

But since the restrictions were lifted in May, “it seems like normal times. We curtailed inspections at first, but things calmed down” and inspections resumed, Rodgers said.

Township Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis said she believes there may be a lot of homeowner construction projects, and asked Rodgers whether the Construction Department has enough staff to handle the work.

Rodgers said the residential project inspections take priority, although the department tries to keep a 50/50 balance between residential and commercial inspections. The department is fully staffed, and inspections are carried out the next day.

However, with several major construction projects on the horizon in 2021, “I do see in the near future that we will need more inspection staff,” Rodgers said. Those projects are in addition to the estimated 2,000 construction permits he expects to be issued for other work.

Rodgers pointed to an addition to a Rider University classroom building and the modifications to a warehouse on Princeton Road that was built on speculation – without a tenant – and that will now become an Amazon “last mile” delivery station.

Amazon drivers will pick up packages that have been shipped to the 340,400-square-foot warehouse at 10 Princess Road from the company’s warehouses and will deliver them to the intended recipients.

Rodgers also mentioned the ongoing work at the Lawrence Shopping Center to fit out the former Acme supermarket for the Lidl grocery store chain, as well as the proposed affordable housing development that may be built on land adjacent to the shopping center on Texas Avenue.

The Construction Department also will be involved in the issuance of permits and subsequent inspections at the 189-unit townhouse development on land at the end of Lenox Drive, called The Trail at Princeton Pike. It was approved by the Planning Board late last year.

“With that being said, I would like to thank the Construction Department staff for all their hard work and dedication,” Rodgers said.