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Dallas officials work to amend permitting code to comply with new state legislation

Dallas City Hall
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House Bill 14 will allow development permit applicants to hire third-parties to inspect or review plans if city officials do not meet new deadlines.

Dallas city officials are trying to “stand up” a way to comply with a recently passed bill that affects the city’s permitting process. That will require the officials to amend multiple chapters of city code. That’s according to a briefing during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

House bill 14 will allow building permit applicants to hire a third-party to conduct an application review — and even building inspections — if the city does not complete them before new deadlines set by the legislature.

Officials say the new legislation will only affect the city if it fails to meet permitting deadlines.

The bill comes at a time when developers and some Dallas officials have criticized the time it takes to get building permits processed — and when the need for housing in the city is so high.

“What I’m grasping is that this is a heavy-handed attempt from the state to try to get us to push permits out faster,” District 1 Council Member Chad West said. “Which is a goal we have here, and we have expressed…many times.”

City officials say they try to either approve or deny a permit after ten days for residential projects — and 15 days for commercial projects. But if after 60 days the city has not completed its inspections and document reviews, the applicant has a few new options.

“That’s when the customer can hire a third-party plan reviewer and inspector,” Chief Building Official Andrew Espinoza said.

Applicants can’t do the work themselves but can hire either an employee of the regulatory authority, someone who works for a different political group or a licensed engineer.

And permitting decisions can be appealed by the applicant to the city council, according to officials.

But some scenarios the bill aims to address just won’t play out in Dallas, according to Espinoza. Currently, the state requires the city to approve a plat and process the application in 30 days. The new legislation adds an additional 15 days to that deadline.

“Which seems a little inconsistent, because were already doing it within 30 days to be in compliance with state law,” Chief Building Official Andrew Espinoza said. “We concluded that this scenario will never play out.”

Some council members raised questions and concerns about how the code change would affect the city — and when city staff would be ready to deal with the new legislation.

“I keep hearing things like ‘Oh we’re looking to stand this up’…'we need to do a better job on that’,” District 12 Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said. “When’s all of this going to happen?”

City officials assured Mendelsohn that staff is ready to handle any new permits when the legislation takes effect.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.