Austin city staff outlines short-term plan to alleviate development review backlog

UPDATE: 12:20 p.m. 5/7/15

Real Estate Council of Austin, which represents developers and coinciding business ventures, released its response to the city's short-term effort to reduce the development review backlog.

In summary, RECA issued the following responses:

• All department backlogs should be eliminated within 90 days.

• RECA said it is unclear why a third-party group cannot be trained to help reduce the backlog when the city is already willing to hire temporary employees, which will also require training.

• Efforts need made to help city departments better coordinate together a short- and long-term approach to relieving the development review backlog.

Austin's notorious development review backlog could be eliminated under a new short-term plan outlined May 1 by city staff in response to a City Council request.

The multi-department effort aims to improve wait times for the site plan, subdivision, commercial and residential plan review processes related to land development and construction, according to a plan outlined in a May 1 city memo from the recently separated Development Services and Planning and Zoning departments.

"The backlog of reviews is an issue that continues to percolate with the increased volume of Austin's development activity," the memo states. "The backlog cannot be solved with existing staffing, and the approach to mitigating the backlog has been to use overtime and temporary staffing."

City staffers broke down approximate turnaround times for each development review process and revealed that review backlogs range between three to eight weeks in some areas. Commercial reviews for new construction, for example, typically take three weeks, according to the city, and residential reviews take a week. However, both processes are behind by about three weeks, according to the city, and the backlog is estimated to take three months to relieve.

Many land use reviews that require multiple department approvals are also behind and may take 90 to 120 days to remedy, according to the city. Staffers who review land uses otherwise have a 90 percent on-time record, the memo states.

The city intends on allowing existing staff to use overtime hours—in some cases, mandatory overtime to help provide short-term relief. City departments can also hire temporary staff to address certain review backlogs, the memo states.

The city considered hiring a third-party plan review services group to help reduce the backlog—and still may as a long-term solution.

"However, this option was determined infeasible for a short-term approach," the memo states. "The time required for training third parties on the Land Development Code and the contract development and procurement process for onboarding third parties would detract from the time to reduce the backlog."

The city is also working to develop online services that would allow plan reviews and permit applications to be submitted and reviewed electronically. There is also testing underway to enable online payments of permits and site plans, according to the memo.

"Once fully implemented, the new options will improve customer service and operational efficiency," the memo states.

The proposed plan to provide short-term backlog relief is still being reviewed by the Real Estate Council of Austin, according to Ward Tisdale, the advocacy group's executive director.

"We are reviewing what's been presented, and we'll have a more detailed response in the coming days," Tisdale said.

Any RECA response is expected to also address the city's plans to create a longer-term approach for reviewing development site plans and permits, Tisdale said. The City Council resolution passed in early April called on City Manager Marc Ott to develop a response to an external assessment of city procedures dubbed the Zucker Report. City staff will respond to the report 60 days after the Zucker Report is finalized, "which is imminent," according to the memo.
By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.


Travis County sent a letter to TxDOT Sept. 21 asking it to explore more options for its I-35  design through downtown Austin. (Community Impact Staff)
Travis County says TxDOT I-35 proposals need ‘more work’ in letter to the state transportation agency

TxDOT said that taking down the highway’s upper decks from Airport Boulevard to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard necessitates property displacements.

Joseph Chacon was named as chief of police. (Courtesy city of Austin)
City manager selects interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon as head of APD

Austin's city manager selected Joseph Chacon as the next police chief, pending City Council approval.

Dripping Springs Mayor Bill Foulds turns to view a map of the proposed Double L Ranch development at a Sept. 21 City Council meeting. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Double L Ranch faces opposition from nearby neighborhoods

The proposed development concerns some neighbors who point to issues with road safety and home values.

The new pedestrian crossing signal should be completed by the end of December. (Courtesy Austin Corridor Program Office)
New pedestrian crossing signal coming to Slaughter Lane at Vinemont Drive

The new signal is a part of Austin’s initiative to improve safety and mobility in the Slaughter Lane corridor.

 Redistricting is one of the items on the Texas Legislature's third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Senate releases proposed redistricting maps as special session begins

Redistricting is one of the items on the third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18.

Photo of the Travis County sign
Travis County approves fiscal year 2021-22 tax rate

The newly approved rate, paired with higher home appraisal rates, will result in an increase in taxes for many homeowners.

Photo of people attending ACL Fest
City of Austin approves ACL health and safety plan, holds off on final permit

Austin Public Health gave ACL the go-ahead to allow proof of vaccination in lieu of a negative COVID-19 test, but asked organizers to require masking in some areas.

Hundreds of complaints were logged against the Austin Police Department last year related to protests against police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police oversight office challenges APD handling of most 2020 protest complaints

Austin's Office of Police Oversight objected to several aspects of the police department's approach to classifying and investigating protest-related grievances.

Photo of ACL Fest
Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin city staff and officials are pursuing additional protections related to mold issues in rental housing. (Courtesy city of Austin)
City pursuing improvements to handling of Austin renters' mold complaints

New recommendations from a report launched in the wake of Winter Storm Uri detail adjustments Austin could make to its mold response.

Students at O. Henry Middle School in Austin head in for their first day of school Aug. 17. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD's COVID-19 rate lower than nearby districts after first month of school

Austin ISD recorded more cases in the first month of this school year than in all of the 2020-2021 school year. Still, Austin ISD saw a lower percentage of cases in students than surrounding school districts.

Wayback Burgers specializes in cooked-to-order burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes. (Courtesy Wayback Burgers)
Wayback Burgers coming to Leander; fire kills 75 dogs in Georgetown and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.