New permitting efficiencies coming to Austin (hopefully)

Eric

Administrator
Staff member
Apr 16, 2023
698
123
I guess the plan review process at the Austing planning department is notoriously bad. The mayor - who called it a "mess" - recently ordered an audit of the permitting system by McKinsey & Co, as discussed in this article. They found that it takes a whopping 1,500 steps and a massive amount of time from numerous City staff to get a permit approved under the current system. On average, it's taking more than a year for applicants to make it through the process (!). This is obviously a source of frustration for developers, who are saying that permitting overcomplexities and delays have led to Austin having higher construction costs than comparable cities they do work in.

For right now, plans for change seem mostly conceptual and in the "just talk" phase. The main takeaways I'd say are the "quick wins" the City is saying they're already implementing. These include "a focus on leadership and coordination across the involved city departments and opening a feedback channel for applicants." Sounds pretty good to me, though I checked out the City's website and couldn't immediately see anything about this new special feedback channel of theirs.

To get a sense of where things are going, I've also copied McKinsey's "roadmap" figure below. To me, some of the changes seem more tangible and convincing while others definitely seem more on the "squishier" end of the spectrum. For example, they list "continuous improvement," which is of course always a good thing to say you'll do. We'll just have to see whether they're able to establish a "performance culture" as envisioned by the "scale transformation" phase of their "implementation horizons" as depicted in the figure...

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To be sure, some aspects of this probably won't translate into real change. Nevertheless, you do have to respect the fact that the City is making an effort to shake things up and improve the process. Changing an organizational structure and culture to improve permitting really is an uphill battle and it does seem they're doing all they can. The real test will be seeing whether, five or so years from now, stakeholders still see the process as equally frustrating and costly as it is now. Ultimately, any change in the permit process will need to be felt on the ground.
 
Location
Austin, Texas, United States
I hope the leaders in the Austin permit offices will hit the ground running and not make all these efforts to look like "just talks". Developers seeking for permits to construct in Austin want to be assured that tangible efforts are being made and those efforts should be reflected on the Permits website as well. Taking a lot of time and resources to get a construction permit can make most developers seek to move to a different location to do their constructions and this is what the permits authorities in Austin should avoid.
 
One thing that I can tell you is that the permitting process of the whole country needs to be worked on with no exception. There's no country that you're going to be to and you won't see something that's wrong and shouldn't still be in their permitting process but they are still there to frustrate people in one way or another. It's a good thing that Austin have started something to right the flaws in their own permitting process and hopefully we will be seeing good results.
 
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