Dallas’ slow building permit process is a gold mine for permit expediters, who view the city’s difficulties as an opportunity for growth.
When the COVID-19 pandemic sent the U.S. into a multi-month lockdown in 2020, many municipalities, including Dallas, pivoted from their paper-based permitting process to online systems.
Dallas’ new system was plagued by technical difficulties and a steep learning curve. In the nearly three years since, permitting processes that might have taken a single day before have turned into weeks- and months-long ordeals.
This less-than-smooth transition to online permitting and the City’s failure to turn around the permitting system have driven up demand for professional permit expediters. These expediters use their city contacts, knowledge, and project-based experience to accelerate the turnaround time for customers and clients unfamiliar with the new cloud-based software.
The two companies focus on commercial development projects, such as restaurants, offices, warehouses, and other retail-based establishments. With years of operating experience around the country, both companies have a firm understanding of how to navigate the multitude of compliance codes and zoning requirements.
The department that oversees residential, multifamily, and commercial permitting in Dallas is the city’s Development Services Department (DSD). In November, DSD Director Andrew Espinoza provided an overview to Dallas City Council Members about the results of an audit of the department conducted by the Matrix Group.
The audit determined that DSD’s most-asked-for changes were for things such as improved communication, process clarity, timeliness, responsiveness, and reduced review times.
Without a permit expediter to fast-track the process, a typical commercial application can take anywhere from two to four months, according to Steven Brescia, president of Scout Services.
With the help of a professional expediter, this time can be reduced significantly, Brescia told The Dallas Express.
For example, the pre-screening process, according to Brescia, can last about four weeks without the need for revisions. If revisions are necessary, the process can last another four weeks.
Permit Place President Mike Robinson detailed to The Dallas Express how different commercial developments have various degrees of requirements to complete before a permit can be pulled.
It is common for a tenant improvement permit to take three to four months from start to finish, whereas the health inspection requirements for a restaurant can push the turnaround time to four to five months, Robinson explained.
As Robinson and Brescia pointed out when speaking with The Dallas Express, the most complicated and error-ridden part of the permitting process is the design phase/pre-screening phase, due to its requirement for complete accuracy.
Besides the complicated nature of Dallas’ building code requirements, the city also suffers from other issues that have boosted demand for expediters.
“There are many challenges with the process in Dallas,” Brescia said. “Dallas has to contend with a large volume of commercial projects heading to the area, despite lacking the staff needed to support such growth. It also doesn’t appear that Dallas partners with third-party inspection companies, [like SAFEbuilt], to help alleviate the pressure on City staff,” Brescia noted.
DSD’s need to incorporate third-party reviewers into its building permit process was highlighted by The Dallas Express in a previous interview with Yuri Galeev, founder and CEO of the project management platform CONSTRUCTO.
Instead of exploring how to incorporate third-party reviewers into DSD’s permit process, Espinoza set up a second “Q-TEAM,” or “alternative plan review team,” intended to serve as DSD’s own paid expediting service.
The City’s Q-TEAM charges applicants fees ranging from $250 to $750 to expedite plan review and work around the still-heavy backlog overseen by DSD and City Manager T.C. Broadnax.