City of Denver Adds $1.3 Million to Expedite Permitting Process
City of Denver Adds $1.3 Million to Expedite Permitting Process

The Denver City Council recently approved on the consent agenda to add more than $1.3 million for the 2016 budget year to the Community Planning and Development office in order to help expedite the backlog of permit requests, both commercial and residential. 

In an attempt to help alleviate wait times and significant overtime being worked by current staff, the additional funding was approved on June 20th by the city council and comes from the city’s general fund. Historically, standard permit wait times have averaged 4 weeks for residential projects and 2 weeks for commercial projects, but increased to 7 weeks and 6 weeks respectively by the end of 2015.

At the current pace, the planning and development office is on pace to hit almost $1 million in overtime pay for 2016 which is unsustainable for employees try to cut wait times. Andrea Burns, communications director for the planning and development office said that the supplemental funding will go to limited and on-call positions that will help organize, inspect and review the influx of permit requests that typically hit Denver during the summer months.  “This is not a list of full time employees. This is more of a stop-gap measure or a little shot in the arm for the department based on the volumes we’re seeing midyear,” Burns said.

Burns also notes that by the end of August, the impact of the additional money should start to be felt as the department expects to have the hiring and training process complete. The permit numbers do not represent simple over the counter permits like new fences, but denote major projects in both the commercial and residential realms. “The first notable impact from the approved budget supplement will be on single family and duplex projects. We will begin sending more projects to third party reviewers at SAFEbuilt (a private company that works with local governments on construction and inspection) at a time than we’ve been able to send them thus far,” Burns said. “We expect this will reduce the average turnaround time for residential review projects to 3 weeks.”

Because of the strong Denver economy, permit requests for both residential and commercial construction are expected to rise approximately 8 percent over 2015. In 2015, Denver saw 75,717 permit requests for major projects, both commercial and residential, which was an 8.8 percent increase over 2014. 

“We really aren’t seeing outliers or increases in only one area. It really is a rising tide of construction in Denver,” Burns notes. “It has definitely been a steady rise. And given our staffing numbers were down during the recession and post recession, it’s been a challenge to catch those numbers back up so we’re keeping pace with the rising demands.”

Burns also says that Denver has seen its highest volume of requests in its history, even though 2015’s number is below 1999’s number by several thousand permits. This is considering the fact that the city combined several permits into one in the early 2000’s. Approximately $3.6 billion in evaluation of materials and labor was represented in permitting in 2015, a substantial increase over the $2.4 billion in evaluation for permitted projects represented in 2014. 

In addition to the influx of limited and on call staff, Burns notes the department has worked to streamline the permitting process by utilizing new technology. All the while, the department has maintained a strict standard for safety inspections.

“We’re just trying to make business process improvements across the board so that things are more clear and are simpler for customers to understand and to get through the process more quickly,” Burns said.


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