It’s no secret that the Dallas Department of Developmental Services has struggled to reduce building permit turnaround time, and department manager Andrew Espinoza is making strides to correct course.
The results of an audit conducted by Matrix Consulting Group were recently released, and Espinoza said many of the recommendations have already been implemented. He will present the report to the Dallas City Council on November 2.
“As a department head, I think I know where I want to steer the ship,” Espinoza told CandysDirt.com. “Having a professional consultant as co-captain is very helpful. He is engaged with other captains and can help navigate busy waters.
Although the flood of complaints about permit turnaround times has diminished, it still takes at least 30 days for most builders to obtain a permit. September was a high-volume month for Development Services, with 400 new single-family home permit applications. The ministry’s goal is to issue permits in three to five days, but this rarely happens.
“We kind of hit a plateau,” Espinoza said.
They are also understaffed and overcrowded in the current Oak Cliff Civic Center facilities.
The department is expected to move to new offices at 7800 North Stemmons Freeway in the spring of 2023. With approximately 70 vacancies in the department — including 54 positions recently approved for the new fiscal year — a recruiting event is scheduled for Tuesday.
Room for improvement
The building community has raised concerns since the backlog of permits spiraled out of control more than two years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have continued to provide feedback directly to Espinoza and his team since the new manager was hired in May.
Phil Crone, general manager of the Dallas Builders Association, said it takes more than 10 weeks for most applicants to obtain a permit.
“While Andrew and the new management team are very excited to tackle the issue and have helped us move several dozen stalled projects, overall timelines are still pretty much where they were this summer,” he said. “We’ve made people understand the importance of publishing precise timelines and that really needs to be a priority. Even if these deadlines are not where we need to be and if it is partly the fault of the applicant or someone other than the city, we still need to know what we are working with in order to guide our priorities. Moreover, businesses and residents make impactful decisions based on this information, especially in today’s volatile interest rates.
An updated version of ProjectDox was rolled out in August, transferring electronic files from a municipal server to a cloud-based system.
“I’ve heard of a breakdown since we’ve been riding,” Espinoza said. “Before changing the system, it was two or three times a week. The staff was on hold. »
Crone agreed that ProjectDox is now more user-friendly and reliable.
“I think I can definitely say that because no one complained about it after the transition was made,” he said.
The consultants reviewed the technology needs, processes, procedures, staffing and resources of the service.
Among the 57 recommendations listed in the report are:
- Acquire and implement a robust land management system capable of digitally submitting applications, reviewing, issuing permits and inspecting a module usable by all development review entities.
- Create a dashboard to present historical and current key performance indicators for the development review process. The dashboard should be updated monthly.
- Establish performance timelines for processing development review requests and provide monthly reports to [DSD] management and publish them online.
- Create the permit pilot position to ensure sole supervision of the development process. The permit pilot project is expected to facilitate better collaboration between the divisions of the[DSD]municipal departments and the development community.
- The city should contract with third-party plan reviewers to meet performance targets for processing building permit applications. Third-party plan reviewers will maintain desired service levels to accommodate fluctuations in workload.
- The human resources department should expedite the hiring process for technical and skilled positions.
Crone said the Matrix study was “long in coming and did an excellent job of diving deep into the structure of the department”.
“Overall, it really didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know,” he said. “However, I like some of the organizational recommendations. Specifically, they identified the silos that exist between the planning department and the development departments and the need to move things like the review of plans for conservation districts under the department that actually does the plan reviews .
Several of the consultant’s recommendations have been modified to meet Dallas’ needs, Espinoza explained.
“What comes to mind is that the consultants said to add an engineer to the Q-Team, our express plan review team,” he said. “We chose to set up a second full Q-Team. Our improvement is consistent with the intent of the recommendation. »
City hired Matrix Consulting before Espinoza was promoted to manager, and he was unsure of the contract fee. The Department of Developmental Services operates with a budget of $43 million and has 326 positions.
The department director said he was excited to create a dashboard for builders to see review timelines and track progress. The public will also be able to track the department’s progress on the 57 recommendations identified by the audit.
“We will be posting an updated PDF that shows where we are on each of the projects,” he said.
Development Services already issues “pop-up permits” on the third Saturday of each month – but that’s not a dent in the backlog, Crone said.
“The pop-up permit hasn’t really helped builders, but I know it’s been a great tool for homeowners and smaller construction projects,” he said. “I commend the city staff for making themselves available in this way.”
Developmental Services plans to expand its fast-track VIP program for a family starting next week.
The program launched Sept. 2, offering same-day permits by appointment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for single-family homes 3,000 square feet or less. The extended version will allow homes up to 5,000 square feet, and applicants will be seen Monday through Thursday.
“I tell our team, ‘We have to engage our customers,'” Espinoza said. “We cannot hide behind our computers. The more we commit, the more we advance. If you work here, you should care.