Development Services Chief Claims Permitting Times Improving

Building Permit
Building Permit | Image by Francesco Scatena/Shutterstock

The City of Dallas Development Services Department is issuing some residential permits within four days, the City’s chief building official told the Economic Development Committee this week.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, the Development Services Department (DSD) has struggled with permit backlogs, long turnaround times, and various inefficiencies under former City Manager T.C. Broadnax, which has prompted complaints from developers and other stakeholders.

“You’ll notice that in 2021, it was taking us 78 days just … to issue one- and two-family building permits,” Andrew Espinoza said. “You’ve seen that steadily decrease. And for the year 2024, we’re averaging four days, so we’re very happy about our performance.”

Espinoza’s presentation to the Dallas City Council members on the committee included residential and commercial permit data for March. For the year, 679 permits have been issued for one- and two-family homes through April 30.

“For the month of March, we saw an increase in residential permits from 136 to 207,” Espinoza said. “That’s about a 52% increase. We issued 154 new single-family permits, 43 RSVP permits — which are permits that are issued the same day. For the month, we averaged three days, and for commercial, we had 15 new commercial, 23 commercial additions, and a whole bunch of commercial remodels.”

The total number of remodels was 233.

“In 2023, we established some specific goals,” Espinoza said. “And as a council body, you heard us [say] that we were going to reduce residential permitting times by 50% by March of 2023, that we’re going to hit our target of three to five business days for new single families, that we’re going to perform all of our initial plan reviews within 15 days.”

“We’re very happy to report that we have hit all of those targets,” he added.

On the commercial remodel side, permits issued increased from 216 in February to 233 in March. For “complex, large projects,” the number of permits issued over the same period increased from 11 to 15.

“In regard to the commercial metric, you’re doing well,” Council Member Paul Ridley (District 14) said. “You’re doing well, first, on the residential. You’re doing an excellent job. You’re consistently getting the permit turnaround time down to three, four days this year.”

During the meeting, Espinoza also described how DSD was recruiting and trying to retain employees.

“In July of 2023, we set up a training team, and the training team was designed to specifically empower and equip our team members to make quick decisions — informative decisions — and issue permits in a timely and consistent manner,” he said. “Those guiding principles are customer service, consistency, teamwork, integrity, and responsiveness.”

During an April hiring event, the department received 124 applications and conducted 71 interviews. Twenty-nine offer letters were distributed “on the spot.”

“I think just about every month, I ask you the same question about the staffing levels,” Ridley said. “Forty total vacancies seems to be relatively consistent at that level … month after month. And when I’ve asked before, you’ve responded, ‘Well, we’re hiring a lot of people. But it’s the retention that means that we’re staying at about the same level.’ Is that still the case?”

Espinoza told the council member he was “absolutely correct.”

“We have not seen a significant decrease in the vacancies,” Espinoza said. “I think what has happened [is] the changes, relocation [and] some of our operational decisions have encouraged folks to find something closer to home or find salaries in other municipalities that are either comparable or better. So, to answer your question about what we’re doing to try to retain team members: one is to incentivize them through an incentive pay program.”

Espinoza also mentioned the launch of an employee referral program.

“And then the third one is just to try to provide a good working environment where you invest in team members, show that you care about them so that they’ll want to be there. And then, of course, the very last piece of that is assessing their salaries to make sure that we are being competitive and able to keep up with surrounding cities,” he said.

With 372 employees, the DSD budget stands at around $54 million.

“I’m wondering if once they start to work, they’re somehow disappointed in — I don’t know — working conditions, responsibility, possibility for advancement,” Ridley said. “Is there enough focus being placed on informing the applicants about just what the job entails?”

Ridley recommended conducting exit interviews with DSD employees.

“So, council member, I agree [that] we can definitely do a better job upfront of letting applicants know what to expect when they come on,” Espinoza said. “We kind of assume that they know what they’re signing up for. But you’re right. Sometimes, not having that clear picture could impact their decision to remain.”

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