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Like many new developments, the $500 million Dickies Arena contracts with a private business to conduct safety inspections. Photo by Lee Chastain

Wait times for city building permits follow the same laws that govern food truck lines. The more popular the product, the more people (i.e. builders) want to get in on the action. Right now, there are hundreds of developers queued up for a piece of Fort Worth’s economic pie. Before any of those retailers, homebuilders, and small business owners can start breaking ground, though, they have to apply for and be approved for a building permit through the city’s Planning and Development Department. 

Not surprisingly, the number of permit applications being fielded by that department is skyrocketing. According to data provided by the city, 2018 saw 14,294 permits awarded — far above the 13,467, 12,856, and 11,320 permits that were respectively given out each year prior. 

There are currently around 500 permits waiting for review by city staff. 

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The delays are due to “the volume of work, staffing levels” and the complicated mix of departments involved in the permitting process, said Allison Gray, assistant city planning and development director.

“The flu has hit us pretty hard this year,” she added. “Our goal is to provide our customers with a complete set of building permit review comments for them to respond to within seven business days. We are currently providing that complete set of comments to our customers in 18 business days.” 

But have no fear. Enter: the X-Team. The “expedited plan review team” boasts eight new employees. Gray said the X-Team was created to address requests from the development community.

X-Team members “will give design professionals the opportunity to work with the reviewing staff directly and resolve any issues immediately rather than wait to receive written comments,” Gray said. The team will also provide “a dedicated customer service representative and coordinator for each project.”

The city has been considering the creation of an expedited plan review process for several years. That effort became an urgent priority in January 2018 due to the rising backlog of permit requests. Last year, Fort Worth City Council increased the 2018 Planning and Development Department budget by $1.5 million and created 14 additional positions within the department.

We reached out to the Fort Worth Builders Association for comment but did not hear back by press time. We did speak to one downtown small business owner who asked not to be named. He expressed frustration with the permitting process, which delayed his store’s opening by more than a month. Small businesses often get the short end of the stick, he said. He believes large businesses and developments have the connections and money to speed up the permitting process. His last point doesn’t appear off track. The expedited services offered by the X-Team will set back business owners $1,000 per hour. A city inspector who spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity recently (“Outsourced,” Dec 19, 2018) described how private inspection companies that contract with the city offer expedited services for higher fees and with less oversight than city inspectors.

The city has been working to get the word out via its website, emails, and social media. 

Since the project’s launch on January 1, Gray said, they’ve had “one applicant.”

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