The City of Austin is increasing efforts to address a backlog in the building permit process because of hundreds of planned developments.
On June 14, the Austin City Council approved two items relating to permits, including the hiring of 14 additional staff to help with the backlog, as well as an increase in permit fees for the first time since 1993.
Councilwoman Sheryl Cole said she has heard from the real estate community for several years about problems relating to wait times—which at times has been several weeks or longer—and extra costs relating to the permit process.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell called the situation “a significant hardship on a lot of people.”
“This whole issue of permitting and development review has become a major problem, and I'm committed to doing everything I can to try and correct the discrepancies in the future,” he said.
According to Greg Guernsey, Planning and Development Review executive director, of the additional staff, 11 will be within the planning and development review department and three will be Austin Fire Department inspectors.
In regard to permit fee increases, Don Birkner, Planning and Development Review assistant director, said the city hired an outside consulting firm two years ago to study the city's permit fee system and that the new fees were determined based on those results.
Harry Savio, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, said that while few associations were affected by both the increase in city staff and the higher permit fees, there was little to no opportunity for their participation in the analysis process.
He told council that not all of the cost-of-service study has been available to them, but from what he had seen, the increases relate mostly to building permits affecting more vertical—or commercial—development than residential development.
Further, according to Savio, the latest hard figures for data—fiscal year 2010-11—showed building permits made a net of $2 million for the city.
Savio clarified that the association was not against the hiring of additonal employees should the waiting process truly be cut and staff can honor its mandated response times.
Guernsey replied that he agreed with Savio in that most of the increases address building fees and vertical development.
However, he said another study is planned for next year, which will focus on the cost of service resulting to horizontal development, such as subdivisions, site plans and zoning fees.
Guernsey also said the main reason fees have not been increased in 19 years is because of the department's lack of a fee policy. But he said the development of such a policy is also part of the current study process.
Spelman asked whether results of the cost-of-service study could be made available for the public. Guernsey said it could be online by the following week (June 18–22).
Birkner said June 19 that the department was still working on adding the survey results to the city website. He expected them to be available for the public to review this week.