Dallas’ planning and permitting departments are expected to be combined this week as part of a reorganization effort by Interim City Manager Kimberly Tolbert.

“This new department will house all land use and permitting functions in one organization, combine zoning implementation and interpretation teams, restructure the permitting function to provide clearer ownership and accountable service delivery, and create a new team focused entirely on customer and team excellence,” Tolbert wrote in a June 21 memo to Dallas City Council members. “The goal of this departmental reorganization is to ensure planning, zoning, and permitting staff are directly aligned in a cohesive workflow to elevate the customer experience for our development community.”

As of Thursday, the Planning and Urban Design Department and the Development Services Department will be called the Planning and Development Department.

“The new Planning and Development Department will be led by Director Emily Liu,” Tolbert wrote. “I am introducing a new deputy director title to provide senior, experienced leadership and create clear succession planning. Elevating these deputies will also give the public one clear point of contact for each of the four core functions.”

Those functions are planning (Deputy Director Andrea Gilles), zoning (Deputy Director Andreea Udrea), permitting (Interim Deputy Director and chief building official Sam Eskander), and customer/team excellence (Deputy Director Vernon Young).

“Development Services Department Director Andrew Espinoza will stay with the City through August 5,” Tolbert wrote in the memo. “He has been reassigned to Assistant City Manager (I) Donzell Gipson and will assist with critical projects related to the Core portfolio.”

It is not clear if Espinoza was asked to resign. He did not return a message seeking comment.

Espinoza has been at the center of a fiasco that’s led to an investigation into why city employees were allowed to work at the new permitting office at 7800 N. Stemmons Fwy. before it received the necessary certificates of occupancy. Mayor Eric Johnson has called the situation “a mess.”

“That’s not something I’m happy about at all,” he said during an interview with CBS News Texas in May. “… I think the residents of Dallas clearly deserve better than that. This is not news coming from me saying that we’ve had issues [with] permitting in the City. … The city manager is directly in charge of those things and has been asked by me repeatedly to address those things. … We can’t be making the newspaper for asinine stuff like this. We have to do a better job on permitting.”

DSD employees were “directed” to move back to their old space at the Oak Cliff Municipal Center on East Jefferson Boulevard on April 9 because of reported code violations. Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) called the debacle ironic because the officials responsible for issuing permits could not satisfy the requirements for one of their own buildings.

The building at 7800 N. Stemmons Fwy. had 140 code violations. In April, Espinoza told Dallas City Council members that the City’s Bond Office has been “working hard to assess the ongoing needs of that particular property.”

“It is a used building, I believe, built in the 80s, so there are some maintenance issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “I assure you that Development Services is partnering with the Bond Office to get those issues addressed.”

Combining the departments is expected to:

  • Streamline processes and improve efficiencies to further reduce the median issuance time for all permitting types
  • Enhance coordination, reduce confusion, and ensure consistency, predictability, and quicker decision-making
  • Provide a single point of contact for developers and the public
  • Improve existing zoning and building codes with input from stakeholders in the development community and elsewhere
  • Guide the adoption and implementation of Forward Dallas
  • Implement the Historic & Cultural Preservation Strategic Plan to protect culturally sensitive areas and landmarks
  • Provide cross-training for departmental employees
  • Implement technological improvements to enhance customers’ experience
  • Use fully electronic applications
  • Continue the expansion of permitting dashboards

“This departmental reorganization results in no immediate budget impact,” according to Tolbert. “However, future year budget savings are anticipated to be created by rethinking the quantity and quality of staff positions across all functions and increasing the efficiency of departmental processes.”

Dallas City Council members on Wednesday will consider reallocating the Planning and Urban Development and Development Services budgets to the new combined department.