Frustration over long waits builds for contractors, do-it-yourselfers

  Photo Courtesy of Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Despite the city’s continued assurances it would speed up its building-permit process, contractors working in Denver’s building boom are still waiting months to start work, potentially putting projects at risk.

The city’s permit office, which has undertaken several efforts to ramp up capacity, has even lost ground this year.

Meanwhile, grumpy contractors and frustrated do-it-yourselfers often can’t hammer or hang drywall until their permits win approval.

“There was nothing we could do,” said Diana Smith, who, with her husband, bought an investment home in the hot Platt Park neighborhood. They hired contractors to renovate and expand it — a project now nearing completion, a few months behind schedule — and plan to resell it.

“We sit there with the house, paying interest on the hard-money loan, (and) $15,000 later, that could have been saved for us,” she said. “You know, time is money.”

Routine delays mean that building permits for new homes and large home additions, if all submission requirements are met, recently have taken an average of 12 weeks, three times as long as the city’s goal. For smaller home additions, permits have taken 10 weeks, five times the goal.

Then there’s the sometimes hours-long ordeal just to sit face to face with a permit employee.

Commercial project approvals are closer to city goals, taking four to six weeks.

The Department of Community Planning and Development’s numbers show that permits issued last year neared 68,000, up 23 percent over 2013 and 63 percent since 2009.The permit total is expected to be flat this year overall, with spikes in certain permit types.

“Right now, we’re seeing a combination of just sustained demand along with a seasonal spike, in addition to what appears to be the increasing size and complexity of projects that are coming in,” said Andrea Burns, a CPD spokeswoman. “We expect to see improvement in the coming months, as the peak seasonal demand subsides and outsourcing and changes to our process take hold.”

While many Front Range cities and counties are grappling with an uptick in building-permit requests, industry observers say Denver’s notorious wait times stand out.

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