Denver auditor finds builders are waiting a long time to get permits

Builders looking to get a permit from the Denver Community Planning and Development Department better bring a book.
4 min. read
Mennonite Disaster Service volunteer James Harrell gives a tour of construction at the Beloved Community Village at Walnut and 38th streets, May 31, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) tiny home village; homeless; right to rest; urban camping ban; denver; colorado; denverite; five points; kevinjbeaty;

Construction in Jefferson Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Builders looking to get a permit from the Denver Community Planning and Development Department better bring a book.

A new audit from the city shows "inefficiencies" in CPD's permit intake process mean average wait times are more than an hour and a half, and sometimes lines to file construction permits start forming hours before the department opens its doors.

The delay is just one more roadblock Denver has in keeping up with its rapidly growing population, according to a news release from Denver Auditor's Office.

“Imbalances in staff training and long wait times are holding up the business of growing and developing the city of Denver,” Auditor Tim O’Brien said in a statement.

O'Brien and his staff looked at how CPD handled building permits for residential and commercial construction from January 2014 through December 2016. When compared to reported wait times in Aurora, Colorado Springs and San Diego, the auditor found builders in Denver were waiting an average of 30 to 45 minutes longer.

Construction plan storage at the Denver Community and Development's Development Services division. (Courtesy of the Denver Auditor's Office)

When the city actually did get the permit applications, which are required to be submitted in paper form, the office did not have enough space to store the documents, often resulting in an unorganized mess that slowed staff down as they searched for the documents they needed.

Approved plans for archiving are backlogged by at least six months, according to the audit.

If all that wasn't enough, the audit also states that there is little or no management process for addressing customer feedback; best practices, standardized by federal executive orders, have not been implemented, CPD lacks a defined periodic review process of building permit fees and former employees of the department had inappropriate access to the city's permitting system.

A construction site on Platte Street. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
CPD has agreed to make improvements to the permitting process, according to the news release.

In 2016, the department said it issued more than 66,000 building permits and saw the highest annual permit valuation total in Denver history — more than $3.65 billion worth of construction materials and labor costs.

CPD spokeswoman Laura Swartz called the record valuation number "an indicator of the size and complexity of development" in Denver.

"In order to keep pace with development activity occurring in Denver, we have grown tremendously over the past few years," Swartz said in an email to Denverite. "As a result, space constraints have become a challenge, and while we have already taken short-term steps of reorganizing offices and building out additional file rooms, we believe the real solution is in moving paper-based processes to electronic systems."

In July, CPD launched its first electronic permitting system — called E-permits — which moves all of its Quick Permit applications for smaller projects like water heaters and new roofs to a fully online system. Contractors can apply and pay for their quick permit without having to submit any paper documents or come to CPD's office.

Quick permits for water heaters, new roofs and other small projects represented more than half (60 percent) of building permits created last year. Since CPD launched the online permitting system in July, it's already issued well over 4,000 permits, according to the department

"We see this as the future of Development Services" Swartz said.

"Following the successful launch of e-permits, we are now working on moving many of our contractor licensing functions to be fully online, and most importantly, are also working to implement electronic document review — so that the remainder of our permit types can be applied for online. We estimate that service will go live in 2018."

The department also plans to address its long lines by training staff by the end of 2018 and getting organized by cleaning up its paper filing system and using digital storage.

CPD also plans to track customer feedback and review the fee process, according to the release.

Earlier this week, CPD announced that, starting Friday, builders can schedule appointments online for high-volume services including single-family home and duplex walkthroughs. A new kiosk will be used to ensure walk-in customers are offered "better guidance during check in."

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Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at [email protected] or @adriandgarcia on Twitter.

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