Directors representing building permit departments from around North Texas met in March to discuss some of the issues that local builders and developers face when working with each department’s building permit process.
Slow building permit processes have become such a concern for the local development community that department directors representing Dallas, Irving, Celina, and Denton convened at a Dallas Builders Association (DBA) panel in early March to discuss some of the challenges that have led to the long wait times.
Dallas’ Development Services Department (DSD) took approximately 27 days in February to issue a residential single-family permit based on first-round reviews, according to DSD’s Residential Permit Activity Dashboard. Prior to the pandemic lockdowns, DSD was capable of issuing most residential building permits in fewer than 5 days.
This means DSD turnaround times have grown more than 400% since 2019 under the oversight of City Manager T.C. Broadnax, according to historical data previously reported by The Dallas Express.
For projects requiring a second-round revision, DSD’s median time to issue required 64 days in February, a decrease of 13 days from January.
These slow permit times are, in part, what prompted March’s panel discussion, which was moderated by DBA Executive Director Phil Crone. Crone has been critical of Dallas’ slow permit times and the resulting project budget inflation. Crone said costly delays that put projects months off schedule have stymied Dallas’ development for years.
DSD Director Andrew Espinoza was not in attendance during March’s DBA panel, but in his place was Sam Eskander, assistant director of DSD. Eskander highlighted the chaos caused when DSD abruptly switched from its paper process to its online ProjectDox permit software.
“Talking about being painful, that’s what we went through,” Eskander told the panel, as reported by The Dallas Morning News. “Prior to COVID, everything was submitted hard copy, paper submittals.” After the pandemic and the switch to ProjectDox, builders and developers were not able to get a same-day permit, he explained.
Even though DSD was working with the City of Dallas on ProjectDox prior to the pandemic, the department forced an early rollout, which resulted in a bug-ridden period, unclear application instructions, and even more frustration from the community.
“We just had to make it work,” Eskander told the panel, per The Dallas Morning News. “That really hurt a lot of people.”
One of the most common challenges discussed among the different department directors was the issue of recruiting and hiring trained staff capable of reducing turnaround times. Staffing issues at Dallas’ building permit department were one of the main problems highlighted in a recent workflow evaluation and staffing study by the Matrix Consulting Group.
Espinoza previously told The Dallas Express that revamping the department’s internal culture was a top priority for 2023 and that it would be key to ensuring permit cycles see consistent reductions.
Although permit cycles in Dallas have moderately shrunk since the height of the problem in 2020, they are still well above the department’s internal goal of 15 days.
Even with the current turnaround times, Crone said the local building community is getting permits turned around in a swifter time frame than last year.
“Sam and the other department leaders that have shown empathy and jumped into the problem, they’ve owned it, they empathize with it, and they’ve done the best that they can to work on it,” said Crone, per The Dallas Morning News. “And we still have certainly a long way to go, but that’s contributed to a lot of the improvements that we’ve seen.”
Slow permit times in Dallas and throughout Texas recently drew the attention of Governor Greg Abbott, who proposed a unified statewide permit process as a solution.
“Depending upon what city you’re in, the permitting process can take from 30 days to 30 months,” said Abbott during a recent State of the State luncheon hosted by the Dallas Regional Chamber.
“[If] you’re holding a piece of property for 30 months, incapable of building on it because you lack a permit, that’s costing you a lot of money,” he said.
It is unclear if Abbott will be able to get such legislation passed during Texas’ 88th legislative session.