Dallas’ slow permitting process is an impediment for the small builders and developers whose projects sit in limbo while the city works to address the backlog.
Dallas’ expedited permit application process ranges from $250-$750 depending on a project’s square footage, according to past reporting by The Dallas Express. With a $1,000 per hour review fee rate, based on the Building Inspection Division’s (BID) fee schedule for permits and services, many smaller developers are left with few options to get their projects off the ground.
“If larger developers are struggling to get it done with all the money and resources available to them, then what chance do smaller builders and developers have?” asked Linda McMahon, president and CEO of The Real Estate Council (TREC), when speaking with The Dallas Express.
“Developers are frustrated,” she said. “They feel like the process is getting thrown back in their faces.”
After accepting his role as the director of Dallas’ Development Services Department (DSD) in June, Andrew Espinoza has undertaken multiple steps to address the root causes of the problem. Part of Espinoza’s solution has been to launch several community-based initiatives designed to strengthen trust in DSD as well as improve the speed at which building permits get issued.
“My biggest concern is that I frequently hear from the development community about it taking anywhere from three to four months before permits get issued,” executive director of the Dallas Builders Association Phil Crone told The Dallas Express.
“Although the process to issue building permits is far from fixed, Andrew and his team have made vast improvements to responsiveness and transparency with the information they provide,” said Crone, adding that he and his team “still have a long way to go.”
One of the biggest and least talked about issues with the building permit process is how it affects smaller tenants in large buildings, according to McMahon.
“Smaller retail tenants require commercial permits to make changes to their property, which is an issue that can take forever to get through,” she said. “For small business owners, the drawn-out delays and high costs can eat into a company’s revenue and cause a business to postpone its grand opening.”
In her current role at TREC, McMahon said she had seen a decade’s worth of permitting problems in Dallas. She cited culture issues, staffing issues, and a slow willingness to adopt new technology as causes for lingering departmental paralysis.
One of the primary causes for the bottleneck in Dallas’ permitting process stems from its failure to promptly transition to an online permitting environment following the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
DSD “failed to see how much of a problem it was, and by not addressing it quickly, it led to where we are today,” Crone said.
Since the launch of ProjectDox 9.2 earlier this year, DSD’s current cloud-based permitting software has gradually started to chip away at the time it takes to receive a building permit.
The latest data provided by Dallas’ DSD shows that 157 permits were created in July, with an average turnaround of 33.6 days. The department has not released permit data for August and September.
McMahon explained these figures only account for the time it took to spend in the DSD stage of the application process. Other departments must sign off on the application before a building permit is actually issued to the customer.
“As long as Andrew and his team remain focused on the fundamentals and tackle the problem with a customer-first mindset, the process will eventually work itself out,” claimed Crone.