As Dallas faces significant permit delays, posing an impediment to businesses and frustrating real estate and construction experts, other cities across the country are exploring solutions to their own permitting challenges. As previously reported by The Dallas Express, the backlogged process for building permits costs developers and business owners time and money, hindering the city’s growth.
Like Dallas, New York City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) moved its building permit applications and licenses online following the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York real estate professionals have since voiced frustration with the online process, calling it “a major headache,” reported Propmodo, a real estate news outlet.
However, the online Service Levels Tracker that the DOB launched following the government-mandated COVID shutdowns allows New Yorkers to see average wait times for various department services. The tracker centralizes information while identifying different DOB metrics, enabling the public to better understand expected timelines for projects citywide and by borough.
Dallas’ permitting process does not boast this level of clarity or transparency. In fact, Dallas’ Development Services Department (DSD), ultimately overseen by embattled City Manager T.C. Broadnax, has struggled to release monthly reports about the state of the permitting backlog in a timely manner.
Also unlike Dallas, New York leadership appears to be making strides in trying to address the issue.
“The new NYC mayor (Eric Adams) is keen to get the city building again, so he’s been active about permit delays,” said Joe Stevens, a partner at the construction consultancy firm Turton Bond.
In another move to expedite building projects and relieve municipalities of the permit backlogs, New York State lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow licensed architects or professional engineers to issue building permits. The bill has passed the Senate and has moved on to the State Assembly for consideration.
As in New York, California has also seen a push for licensed architects or professional engineers to join the process and help departments issue building permits faster.
In an exclusive interview with The Dallas Express, Yuri Galeev, founder and CEO of the project management platform CONSTRUCTO, suggested that bringing in industry professionals could alleviate the bureaucracy and fragmentation within most departments.
“The plan review process (design phase/pre-construction phase) in much of California remains fragmented and in need of fixing,” Galeev told The Dallas Express. “The pre-construction phase here in San Jose can sometimes take anywhere from six [to] eight months to complete.”
Ultimately, he said, it is about improving the implementation and internal processes.
“We want to see the process get back into the hands of industry professionals,” Galeev said. “That way, with a mix of in-house talent and local design professionals, the process becomes more efficient, issuance times get reduced, and customers can get started on their projects right away.”
Another city faced with permitting woes is Portland, Oregon.
At the Bureau of Development Services (BDS), which handles Portland’s building permit process, it took an average of nearly 200 days last summer to grant a commercial building permit, more than twice as long as the bureau’s goal.
To deal with the long issuance times in Portland, the city council passed an ordinance to standardize when code and fee changes take effect. Council members say the change will make it easier for permitting staff to track and avoid delays that occur when they are overlooked.
In addition, the BDS set up a task force in 2021 that suggested consolidating all the bureau’s infrastructure under one management.
Portland city official Terri Theisen believes consolidating everything under one management would decrease the number of departments the application would need to pass through.
“It is a wildly complex system. Customers have to interface, depending on the project, with up to seven different bureaus on one project, and not with the same person,” said Theisen.
The solutions offered by city leaders reveal a common thread: consolidate authority under fewer departments and include industry professionals in the process.
It goes hand-in-hand with what Galeev told The Dallas Express.
“Building officials need to remove the fragmentation involved in the building permit process and consolidate the different departments under one roof,” Galeev said. “By removing the clutter and consolidating the process, you solve the staffing shortages, you make decision-making easier, and you cut down on the time it takes to review and issue permits.”
In terms of improving the process in Dallas, Andrew Espinoza, director of Dallas DSD, told city council members in October he foresees permitting issues persisting for several more years, citing problems with the City’s permit software and the lack of staff to handle the immense backlog.