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City puts a price tag on planning backlog fix

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin is looking at solutions to fix its plan review backlog, but the fix is going to cost the city.

Since the publication of the Zucker Report draft, the Development Services Department has worked to create strategies to eliminate the backlog. According to a memo from Planning and Zoning Department Director Greg Guernsey and Development Services Department Director J. Rodney Gonzales, the solution may require a midyear budget amendment.

The Development Services Department will need an extra $400,000 to eliminate the current backlog in the next 90 days. That money will go toward temporary positions and overtime for existing positions.

Additionally, in order to keep the backlog from recurring, the Development Services Department will be seeking funding for 17 new permanent positions in its land use review, commercial building review and residential building review departments in the next budget cycle. In all, the department will ask for $1,560,211 to fund the new positions in the next fiscal year. Of that, about $1.13 million will go to additional positions in the commercial services division.

The Development Services Department’s commercial review division currently faces a backlog of three weeks. With funding for overtime and temporary staff, the city is predicting that it will fix the backlog in the next 90 days.

Specifically, the department plan calls for three temporary plan review staff and a work schedule that includes five hours over mandatory overtime for permanent staff. Moving forward, the department has requested the addition of 11 new permanent positions as part of this year’s budget request.

The residential review department also faces a backlog of three weeks. The mitigation plan for the division is to hire two or more temporary review staff and also institute a policy of requiring five hours of mandatory overtime for current permanent employees. Here, too, staff is recommending the addition of permanent employees for a longer-term fix. In the next budget, they will ask for three customer service representatives for the division.

However, the memo notes that it is not solely a staffing issue and that “delinquent turnaround times for residential project plan reviews are at least partially associated with the complexity of the ‘McMansion’ provisions within the Land Development Code (LDC) and the routine appeals of staff decisions associated with these types of reviews. As such, the department will recommended changes to the LDC that will simplify the McMansion provisions and will extend the turnaround times for these types of reviews to ensure that there is sufficient time to perform a thorough review.”

Land Use Review is the division that is in charge of submittal, distribution and review of site development permits and subdivision plats. Staff attributes the delays in this division to “collaborative partner review” with a note that 90 percent of their cases are reviewed on time.

Fixing the backlog in this division may take as long as 120 days, with the help of three temporary employees and an unspecified amount of overtime for permanent employees. As an added measure, the mitigation will also integrate other departments into the city’s AMANDA system in an effort to make the process run more smoothly.

The memo detailing the plans to address the backlog in plan reviews is a response to a City Council resolution passed in April. As part of that resolution, both the Development Services Division and the Zoning and Planning Department are also working on a response to the Zucker Report and an implementation plan. Staff expects both to be complete 60 days after the release of the final draft of the Zucker Report.



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