Dallas’ Antiquated Permitting Process Hurts Residents and Small Businesses

Business, City

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For more than two years, builders and contractors have voiced frustration and anger over Dallas’ backlogged and onerous building permitting process, which city officials claim will improve with a new software enhancement set to be implemented in early August.

Since its premature rollout at the start of the pandemic, the city’s existing software has been bugged with connectivity issues and service outages, leading to backlogs and bottlenecks for hundreds of different-sized projects.

Building permits are required for most construction projects and range from small-scale plans like adding a roof over the patio to larger-scale undertakings like renovations on a commercial property.

Phil Crone, executive director at the Dallas Builders Association, harshly criticized how the city was handling the permitting issue, telling The Dallas Express he gets calls multiple times daily about permits being stuck.

He emphasized how unintuitive the current software is.

“The software was flawed from the get-go,” he said. “The IT department built the software to replicate in-person processes in the virtual world without keeping the end user in mind.”

The new software, ProjectDox 9.2, will be implemented in the first week of August and will hopefully create efficiencies in the processing time by streamlining the method in which the software captures information, reviews that information, and then processes uploaded applications for building permit approval.

In an exclusive interview with The Dallas Express, Andrew Espinoza, Dallas’ new director of development services, discussed the challenges surrounding the permitting process and how his department is working to fix the issues.

“The current software could have used more time before rolling out,” Espinoza told The Dallas Express. “Since then, it has really fumbled along the way and is the primary reason for the slowdown.”

Espinoza’s current position in city government remained vacant for over 18 months until he accepted the role in May.

Crone commended Espinoza’s efforts thus far and believes significant steps forward will be made by the end of the year.

“It will take him a while to get the people, policies, and processes in place before things get better,” Crone told The Dallas Express. “I expect it will be 18 months before it becomes a non-issue.”

The City of Dallas averaged 61 days to approve new single-family dwelling (SFD) permits in June, a three-day increase from April, and a roughly 20% increase from the previous year, according to a June 24 memo from Espinoza.

In an updated July 8 memo, Espinoza’s team reported approximately 147 new SFD permits issued in June, a 30% shortfall of the department’s 210-target. The excessive delays have a negative opportunity cost for time-sensitive builders and developers who rely on quick turnaround times to stay competitive and keep prices down.

“The seven weeks I waited cost my small construction company more than $8,000,” claimed Jeff Dworkin, former Dallas Builders Association president.

“Permit delays are costing builders $200-$300 per project, per day,” Crone told The Dallas Express.

Such holdups do not just make it more expensive for builders and developers, they also cut into the amount of money the city accrues from fees. The backlog has lost the city hundreds of millions of dollars since the permit slowdown began, said Crone, citing the potential boon lost from the “pandemic-housing boom.”

The issue has caused tensions to rise at City Hall.

On June 11, The Dallas Express reported that members of the Dallas City Council considered firing or disciplining Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax, considering his oversight of the city’s permit operations. Several council members expressed displeasure with Broadnax’s failure to speed up the building permit process.

In response to the high influx of permit requests, the Development Service Department (DSD) onboarded 36 new team members to help manage the workload, Espinoza shared in a newsletter emailed to The Dallas Express in June.

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