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Sanpete County is in the midst of a building boom that has as its principal focus new houses.

That conclusion is contained in the statistics released by the county's new Building Inspection and Zoning Department: 72 dwelling permits were issued in the eight months.The department has also issued 25 dwelling addition permits and 13 dwelling remodel permits. In several instances, these permits cover improvements to houses that have been long vacant or even abandoned.

Why the heightened focus on housing?

Dale Nicholls, head of the department, said one reason is that mortgage interest rates are at a 20-year low. "People think now is the time."

And he points out that much of the building activity is occurring in the northern end of Sanpete County. "The Wasatch Front is getting closer to Sanpete County. People can live in a rural setting and commute to their jobs in Utah and Salt Lake counties."

Also contributing to the boom, Nicholls adds, are the establishment of the Central Correctional Facility at Gunnison and the growth of Snow College in Ephraim. Both guards and teachers need homes.

Many of the people moving in, according to Nicholls, are older, retired people. They see Sanpete County as offering a variety of advantages: LDS temple work, attendance at the college's cultural events, well-organized senior citizen programs, hunting and fishing, clinics and hospitals, and a drive of two or three hours to the urban areas.

"Utah's cities are models for the rest of the country when it comes to well-planned cities because of people like Brigham Young," Nicholls says. And that's a big reason, he adds, why they want to establish a home in towns like Ephraim, Manti and Mt. Pleasant.

Another reason for the influx Nicholls could have mentioned, is the availability of land, "lots of land," some of it in the towns, where four homes to the block were once the norm, much of it in the low-lying oak and aspen country.

Five Salt Lake County family men, as an example of the in-migration, have recently purchased 120 acres northeast of Mt. Pleasant. According to the plans they've submitted to the Building Inspection and Zoning Department, they propose to build homes on the site, have room for horses and kids, and commute to their jobs.

After a period when there was little control of land development in Sanpete County, a period where lots were sold by developers with little provision for access, water and other amenities, and even safety - four children lost their lives in trailer fires. The County Commission adopted an ordinance that set down strict codes and covenants. And more recently it established the Building Inspection and Zoning Department.

"Without the building codes . . . I believe it would be impossible to control all the building going on in Sanpete County," Nicholls says. And the commission agrees that it's commitment is to strong enforcement.

The commissioners intend that the department will be financially self-sustaining. It is now staffed by administrator Dale Nicholls, two inspectors and a part-time secretary. And in its first eight months, it has collected $45,024 in fees - enough to pay its freight.