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Fort Worth’s Permitting Process Outperforms Dallas’

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When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the U.S. economy to shut down in early 2020, many cities across the country moved hastily to transition their building permit process online. So, what makes the process different for the two major cities in North Texas?

While Dallas and Fort Worth saw a shift to an online permitting environment as an essential step to mitigating the enormous volume of daily permit applications, many issues arose that caused Dallas’ Development Services Department (DSD) to flop its initial rollout.

Building permits are issued by a city’s DSD, which grants authorization to proceed with construction or remodeling projects. Building permits ensure that project plans comply with local land use, zoning, and construction standards.

To describe the similarities and differences between Dallas and Fort Worth’s permitting process, D.J. Harrell, head of Fort Worth’s DSD, provided The Dallas Express with an exclusive 30,000-foot view of how the process works in his city.

When moving to an online permitting software, Dallas was slow to start its online transition, whereas Fort Worth had previous experience with online systems and was better equipped to make the full transition.
Harrell explained that Fort Worth’s DSD made its first transition to an online building permit process in 2010 with limited administrative access. In 2013, the online process was opened to customers for the first time.

In 2020, Fort Worth completely transitioned online with updated features to provide a smoother experience for builders and developers.

Since the failed bug-laden launch of Dallas’ initial permitting software in 2020, the city’s DSD has been beset with a backlog of building permit applications that are costly for builders, as reported by The Dallas Express, which ultimately drives the price of housing up.

“With every new launch, there are going to be hiccups,” Harrell said about Dallas’ software rollout. “When things get wonky, employees here have moved quickly to find solutions and workarounds to the problem.”

On August 8, 2022, Dallas’ DSD rolled out its current cloud-based permitting software, ProjectDox 9.2. The software was created to replace the previous version and to supposedly provide an “effortless” user experience through better information capture and storage.

Still, upon its launch, multiple issues arose, including “slow file synchronization” and “delays with data transfer,” Dallas DSD Director Andrew Espinoza told The Dallas Express.

“The initial software had a premature launch which caused connectivity issues and service outages,” Espinoza said.

When measuring the issuance rate for the two largest cities in North Texas, it is helpful to gauge their estimated population size when determining how well each department performs.

Dallas had an estimated population of 1,288,457 in 2021, according to U.S. census data. Fort Worth had a 27% smaller estimated population size of just 935,508.

While some improvements have been made to the issuance time for single-family building permits in Dallas, the review time in Fort Worth is nearly five times shorter, according to data provided by the two cities.

Based on a project’s first round of corrections to the application, it can take the Fort Worth DSD “eight days for commercial projects and five for residential,” he told The Dallas Express.

In Fort Worth, the average review time for smaller residential projects is typically seven days, based on the need for further revisions.

After the application is corrected and resubmitted, customers can expect the wait time to decrease to five days. Harrell explained that if the process is repeated, the next wait time will drop to three days.

Throughout 2021, Dallas issued 2,100 single-family building permits, according to a recent report by Dallas’ DSD. Fort Worth, by comparison, issued 7,129 single-family building permits, nearly 3.5 times the rate of Dallas.

When looking at building permit data for July of the current year, Dallas issued 157 new single-family building permits with an average turnaround time of 33.6 days. By comparison, 636 new single-family building permits were issued in Fort Worth during the same period, according to the City’s Development Activity Report.

“The 33.6 days Dallas’ development services listed on their report does not actually mean it took 33 days to receive a permit, just how long it took to get through [DSD],” Linda McMahon, president and CEO of The Real Estate Council of Dallas (TREC), told The Dallas Express.

“It’s not just one department that handles the permitting process. Multiple departments must work together to sign off on a project before the permit is finally issued,” McMahon said, noting that the process also goes through the engineering and fire department, among others.

Note: This article was updated at 9:38 a.m. on October 6 for clarification.

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