As we have previously reported, in the fall of 2015 the City of Houston Planning and Development Department (P&D) introduced a proposal to create a special revenue fund (SRF) to collect development fees, along with a new development fee schedule which included increased fees and previously established fees that were not being assessed.
In exchange for the new fee schedule and increased fees, the GHBA and other stakeholders worked with the Planning Department to establish service level benchmarks to help determine the effectiveness of the SRF. After working with the GHBA and other development stakeholders, the Houston City Council adopted those measures. Originally proposed to take effect on January 1, the GHBA was successful in working with the Houston City Council, P&D and other stakeholders to delay the implementation until March 1.
P&D asserted that the creation of the SRF and fee realignment would increase development-related staffing levels over previous budget levels, including additional plan reviewers, increase quality of reviews and improve technology and supplies.
In summary, the SRF was expected to pay for P&D’s development services. They claimed that the structure would ensure that as development activity fluctuates with the market, fee revenue commensurate with that activity would be available for development services.
Last month, members of the GHBA Government Affairs Committee met with the City of Houston Planning and Development Department Director Pat Walsh and members of his executive staff to review the first quarterly report on the implementation of the SPF. Of the eight benchmarks, the Planning Department staff has met or exceeded six.
These benchmarks were divided into two categories, Permit Center Improvements and Subdivision Plat Office Improvements. With the aid of the dedicated funds, the P&D were able to increase their Permitting staff from four to nine. Some of the improved service levels standards are listed below.
Permit Center Improvements
Site Plan Compliance Review (Single-Family Residential Plans)
- Previous Service Level: Review takes upwards of 15 days or longer
- Current Service Level: 90% of plans reviewed within 3 business days
Expedited Plan Review (within 24 hours)
- Previous Service Level: Daily program capacity of two (2) commercial plans and two (2) single-family residential plans
- Current Service Level: Daily program capacity fifteen (15) commercial plans and 25 single-family
Subdivision Plat Office Improvements:
Subdivision Plat Staff Recommendations (excluding variance and public hearing items)
- Previous Service Level: 90% of staff recommendation provided to applicant by 9 AM on the day of Planning Commission
- Current Service Level: 90% of staff recommendations provided to applicant by 3 PM on the day before Planning Commission
Subdivision Plat Recordation Appointments
- Previous Service Level: Appointments available within 10 business days
- Current Service Level: Appointments available within 5 business days
Planner of the Day (POD) Service
- Previous Service Level: Walk-in/Telephone POD service not available the day before and the day of Planning Commission
- Current Service Level: Walk-in/Telephone POD service available each business day
As for service levels missed, for planner of the day service at the Permitting Center the benchmark was set to cut wait times from 11.5 minutes to five, but the current level is 10 minutes on average. To further reduce the wait time to the five minute goal, planning staff is going to increase staff from one to two.
In addition to improved service level standards through the SRF, the Planning Department has worked with the GHBA to gather constructive feedback and work with P&D staff on ways to develop improvements. Their goal is to get insight on how the customer experience actually is and where the problems areas lie.