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Development delays cost the city $1.4 million monthly, Real Estate Council proposes solutions

March 13,2023

See full Fort Worth Report article by Rachel Behrndt here.+

Developers are seeking a more streamlined process to navigate the maze of permits, applications and other issues they encounter in Fort Worth.

The Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth surveyed 89 developers to find out where the city could make improvements to its permitting processes. Developers responded that cooperation across all development departments is bad and possibly getting worse.

However, the developers said that the Development Services department itself has improved since 2019.

Travis Clegg, chairman of public affairs for the Real Estate Council, estimated that delays in communication delays $1.4 million in taxable income and $600,000 in fees paid monthly.

Developers complained of a slow process and found that city departments are experiencing high turnover, leading to a loss of experience, Clegg said.

There are nine departments who are involved in the development process in Fort Worth — development services, water, neighborhood services, parks and recreation, code compliance, fire, transportation and public works, planning and legal.

The city has invested heavily in the development services department; city management increased the department’s budget by $10 million last budget cycle, adding 40 new positions.

As part of the study, Clegg produced a flow chart of each department involved in the development process. Printed out, the flowchart is about 14 feet long, Clegg said.

“So, if we fix Development Services and things are moving quickly, you could have issues hung up in other departments as well,” Clegg said.

Clegg and the real estate council presented recommendations based on the survey to the City Council in a work session March 7. Chiefly, the city should break down barriers among city departments to make the development process more seamless, Clegg said.

Full list of recommendations:

  • Continue positive progress in the development services department
  • Encourage problem-solving across departments
  • Resolve conflicts between departments
  • Place staff from other departments who work with commercial developers under the authority of development services, maintaining ties to related departments. For example: Staff who work with developers on fire permitting would work under development services but maintain ties with the fire department.
  • Plan for those staff members to occupy the same floor in new City Hall
  • Schedule standing meetings with all city staff involved with development
  • Invest in customer service training for staff
  • The city manager should host a two-hour semi-annual forum with members of development staff and the commercial real estate community
  • Invest in retention efforts and provide opportunities to advance within departments.

Improvements to the city’s development process have been on the city’s radar for years, assistant City Manager Dana Burghdoff said. City manager David Cooke has made it one of his top priorities, she said.

“We know that this is a high priority for the mayor and council,” Burghdoff said. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do. We also have a lot of great success to build on.”

Clegg again recommended the city establish a “one-stop shop” for developers looking to push a project through the process.

The one-stop shop concept has been discussed in Fort Worth since the 1990s, when Kay Granger served as mayor. The approach was used in the Business Assistance Center located at the James E Quinn Entrepreneurship Campus. The Fort Worth Report previously reported that the center has been “adrift” because of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to the program.

The concept has been revived through the potential of a new City Hall, where city leaders envision a one-stop shop for developers where staff members from multiple departments would be available to help streamline the process.

“If we have everybody who’s worked on development projects in one location, that might make it easier for developers to navigate the system rather than going to different buildings and maybe different floors to find the solutions for that project,” Clegg said.

Council members Elizabeth Beck and Leonard Firestone asked how Fort Worth’s process compares with other cities.

“I think we’re always really good at tinkering with stuff and maybe the solution is not to tinker, but just take a sledgehammer to it and start all over,” Beck said.

Beck and council member Gyna Bivens also expressed concern about reworking the structure of the development process to include staff from different departments under one umbrella. Bivens emphasized those changes could pose potential challenges if staff is unclear of the management structure.

“We don’t know what their organizational structure looks like,” DJ Harrell, head of Development Services, said. “But we’re all willing to figure it out.”