It’s hard to argue with the fact that efficient operations at the City of Dallas are a critical component of not only keeping businesses in Dallas, but also getting new companies to move here.
The Real Estate Council, along with other organizations, has been working with the city to improve the processing of building permits, certificates of occupancy, and zoning cases at the city’s Sustainable Development and Construction Department. With the budget crunch the city faced two years ago, valuable personnel were cut that left the department without enough people to approve permits and process zoning cases in a timely manner. Commercial real estate projects are all about timing, and the response times for basic development services can make or break a project.
Earlier this year, the city manager convened a Building Inspection Enterprise Fund Committee, consisting of city staff and private sector stakeholders. The group has been charged with recommending improvements to the development services provided by the department. Additionally, the committee is reviewing the functionality of the Enterprise Fund, which is designed to charge fees that correspond to the services provided.
During the past several years, services that used to be subsidized by the General Fund are now being covered by the Enterprise Fund, but there is not a fee associated with these services. These services include historic preservation efforts, council-authorized hearings, and administrative support for boards, commissions, advisory, and ad hoc committees. All of these functions are vitally important to the growth of our city; however, these services should be subsidized by the city’s General Fund, because they enhance the quality of life of all Dallas citizens.
Not surprising, last year when most commercial real estate projects were stalled due to lack of financing available in the marketplace, the biggest development customer at the city was Habitat for Humanity. But in the very near future, our region is projected to grow at an exponential rate. Dallas needs to be ready for this growth and the opportunities it will bring to create more revenue for the city. Providing timely approval of building permits and zoning applications is a major way to attract development, but property owners in Dallas and the surrounding suburbs report that getting permits is far easier outside of Dallas city limits.
Members of The Real Estate Council have been actively engaged in advising the city on the critical importance of this issue. Although zoning and building permits may seem “in the weeds” for most of us, anything that impedes growth in the City of Dallas has a true trickle down effect we will all feel.
We are now engaged in reviewing the city’s FY 2012 budget as it relates to this issue, with the hope of ensuring that the City has the best resources available and the most efficient procedures in place when commercial real estate development returns to this city in a big way. Public policy initiatives that are important to business growth and the economic vitality of the city are the top priority for our members. The budget is complex, but we are convinced the Building Inspection Enterprise Fund Committee is comprised of smart people who can help the city make these tough decisions.
Linda McMahon is president of The Real Estate Council. Contact her at email@example.com.