Planning and Development: A Small Bump
Building fee hikes will pay for new hires
The Planning and Development Review Department is undergoing a bit of a sea change this year as additional staff comes on board to process a backlog of building permit applications and to move toward implementing the new Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. City Council has already adopted a plan to increase fees – the department's first hike since 1993 – to generate revenue for about a dozen additional full-time hires. The department's proposed total budget stands at nearly $32.5 million, up from $27.5 million last year.
After cutting nine positions about two years ago, the department found itself struggling to make do with a skeleton crew to handle Austin's swift rebound from the economic recession. Commercial developers and small-business owners grew increasingly frustrated by the long delays in processing building plans, as well as the assortment of other paperwork and applications required of new projects, and the complaints gained a more public platform during the spring City Council campaigns.
The backlog of cases is so immense, department chief Greg Guernsey told council members in June, "Even if we were to catch up, we would still fall behind because we actually can't keep up with the amount of work coming in." Austin is poised for more commercial growth in the next couple of years, he said; development applications jumped by more than 50% in the first half of the 2011-12 fiscal year, compared to the first six months of the previous year. "So many people are interested in coming to Austin and building," Guernsey said.
If the city continues its predicted path toward more growth over the next 10 years, new developments would ideally follow the road map laid out in the recently adopted comprehensive plan, which will require extensive revisions to the city's Land Development Code.