Dallas City Council members were given a performance update this week on the Development Services Department’s recent track record managing building permit demand and wait times.
The City of Dallas held its Government Performance & Financial Management Committee (GPFMC) meeting on Tuesday, with updates from Majed Al-Ghafry, assistant city manager for economic development and convention, on behalf of Development Services.
Building permit applications in Dallas are reviewed and processed by the Development Services Department (DSD), which is managed by the chief building official, Andrew Espinoza.
Al-Ghafry began the committee meeting by touting DSD’s attempts to steer the ship back on course.
Al-Ghafry told the committee that DSD recently implemented two new systems, a government permitting software called Acella and a walk-in customer queuing system called the Q-List.
“The system contract will help us track customer wait times and will allow customers to have the ability to schedule appointments without having to wait a longer period of time,” Al-Ghafry claimed.
“The system would be no different than when you go to a restaurant and are handed a ticket (or device) that tells you how long the wait will be before you can be seated,” he explained.
DSD received 112 single-family permit applications in February compared to 115 in January, according to Al-Ghafry. He reported that DSD issued 172 permits during the month, with 99% of single-family permits meeting the department’s 15-day timeline.
The permit cycle time for a residential building permit — from the application stage to the issuance stage — saw a five-day decrease between GPFMC meetings.
The average turnaround time fell from 32 days in January to 27 days in February, the sharpest drop in turnaround times in the last 29 months, according to Al-Ghafry. This claim is backed by data found in DSD’s Residential Permit Activity Dashboard.
Council Member Paul Ridley of District 14 found it puzzling that DSD could complete 99% of permit applications within 15 days but still have an average 27-day issuance time.
The permit applications that were not approved within 15 days “must have taken months for it to skew the average so much,” Council Member Ridley suggested.
Al-Ghafry reluctantly agreed.
Nor was the continuance of high average wait times DSD’s only difficulty in February. Other key complaints from the development community during the month included the repeated delays for fire suppression permits in both residential and commercial construction applications.
Council Member Gay Donnell Willis of District 13 expressed frustration that the City was still having to deal with permitting delays.
“While we have made progress on the residential side, commercial [building permits] still merit the attention of this Council,” she said. “In terms of fire suppression delays, I had folks come up to me a year ago wanting to privatize this [the permitting process]. Builders say it’s creating holdup and costing them much more than it would if they just paid for it.”
Al-Ghafry said that he and Espinoza have been in regular talks over this and are exploring the possibilities of adding new sources to DSD’s specialized permitting service. City Manager T.C. Broadnax previously promised to accomplish this goal in 2022.
“Well, we’ve still got this commercial side where the improvement needs to be seen, and so maybe there are some things that can be offloaded to get that caught up,” Council Member Willis suggested.
“I would also like us to see something more along the lines of the report we get for residential on the commercial side, so we can keep our eyes on that, ask questions, and see if there are ways that we can help,” she said.
Part of the holdup involving commercial permits stems from DSD’s 21% vacancy rate. One of DSD’s plans to address this problem is to host another Saturday recruitment fair sometime in May, Al-Ghafry told the City Council.
In addition to hosting an early summer recruitment fair, DSD has also reached out to Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Arlington, requesting 10 specific intern positions to help fill key roles within the department. Interns will be given the opportunity for full-time following their graduation, he said.
Al-Ghafry concluded his report by giving the City Council a mid-to-late April timeline for DSD’s staff to transition over to the new permit department located at the 7800 Stemmons building.
Thanks Dallas Express for continuing to cover this.
Me thinks that City staff and Council officials need pressure to do their jobs.