A Message from the City Manager

I am pleased to share the Development Services Department’s (DSD) Annual Report for 2020. DSD employees serve an important role in our community by reviewing, permitting, and inspecting the thousands of development projects in our fast-growing city.
The Department’s mission is to support our vibrant community through responsible development, and DSD aims to enable residents, businesses, and the development community to safely build and complete projects affordably and on-time. The DSD Annual Report showcases the phenomenal work department employees have accomplished towards this mission in alignment with the City’s Strategic Direction 2023 and highlights various process improvements that have been implemented as a direct response to stakeholder and customer feedback.
Spencer Cronk
As we are all aware, the pandemic arrived in early 2020 and required the City to adjust how it serves the public. Guided by its interest in being responsive to customer needs during the pandemic, DSD quickly adapted and shifted to a new work paradigm, creating new ways to conduct regular business while continually evaluating ways to improve service delivery and simplify processes. Within the Annual Report are illustrations of the exceptional efforts DSD employees performed during the pandemic in order to safely support development activities and provide uninterrupted services to residents and businesses. The Annual Report also previews the innovative features housed within the new Permitting and Development Center which will open to our residents and development customers as soon as it is safe to resume in-person operations.  
Thank you to Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales, DSD Director Denise Lucas, and the entire department staff for their hard work and dedication to our community. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating their accomplishments. 
Spencer Cronk
City Manager

Letter from the Director

As the director of the City of Austin Development Services Department, providing an excellent customer experience is my very top priority. Since joining the department in November 2017, it has been a joy for me to see this team’s shared commitment to improving the customer experience for everyone we serve.
As part of that improvement process, we began the fiscal year focused keenly on our commitment to streamline and digitize our complex, largely paper-based processes. And, anticipation was mounting for the imminent move to the City’s new Permitting and Development Center.
The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Austin in March quickly changed life as we knew it, but that vision to achieve excellence never wavered. As we adapted our services, nearly instantaneously, to a mostly remote work environment, DSD never closed. Our operations have remained open, providing vital services for Austin’s $1 billion construction industry and area residents.
On the front lines, when construction received the green light to resume as an essential activity, our innovative inspectors began sharing information about safe and healthy work practices at the job sites they visited. They also began offering live video inspections to reduce risks associated with occupied residences. Meanwhile, at remote work locations in homes all over the City and beyond, hundreds of DSD employees continued working virtually with their teams, finding online solutions quickly so our customers could continue building our future community.
Although we saw a notable drop in most development activities this past year, residential activity has been increasing. Overall, construction in Austin is expected to pick up in the coming year and return to previous levels by 2022. We will not truly know the full impacts of this global pandemic for some time. But whatever challenges our community encounters as more activities resume, DSD employees and our customers, together, will continue to achieve great things that demonstrate our commitment to Austin’s future.
We truly are in this together, from the technology teams who built the digital development foundation to the crews sanitizing surfaces at busy construction sites. Less visible, but no less vital, are the many professionals behind the scenes: engineers, plan reviewers, arborists, permit specialists, and many others who work each day to ensure safe building practices are followed on every project, every time. This year, we also welcome Austin Center for Events, Land Management, Music and Entertainment Permitting, and Small Cell Permitting to DSD as part of the City’s continuing strides to centralize permitting activities.
We eagerly await the opportunity to share a safe, streamlined development services experience with all our customers and community when we resume in-person operations at our new Permitting and Development Center.
Until then, thank you for helping us continue to support responsible development in our vibrant, and resilient, community.
Thank you for all you do.

Denise Lucas, Director
City of Austin Development Services Department

Who we are

The City of Austin Development Services Department is a team of more than 400 dedicated public servants, including engineers, experienced plan reviewers, certified inspectors, arborists, information technology experts, business process specialists, and other talented individuals who work together each day, whether directly with our customers or behind the scenes, to continually improve DSD’s services for our community.  

What we do

We ensure compliant and sustainable development, support the environment and urban forest, and help ensure event safety by collaborating with partner departments and helping homeowners, business owners, contractors, event managers and area residents understand and apply existing codes and other guidelines designed to help keep our community safe. We are here to support our vibrant community through responsible development.

Strategic Direction (SD) 23 Goals

The City continues its focus on Strategic Direction 2023 (SD23), which provides a governance framework to help Austin achieve its vision as a beacon of sustainability, social equity, and economic opportunity; where diversity and creativity are celebrated; where community needs and values are recognized; where leadership comes from its community members; and where the necessities of life are affordable and accessible to all.
The SD23 framework includes six outcomes: Economic Opportunity and Affordability, Mobility, Safety, Health and Environment, Culture and Lifelong Learning, and Government that Works for All. Although DSD generally falls within the Economic Affordability and Opportunity sector, our four SD23 goals and numerous reporting metrics also include and reflect other roles and services we provide to support the quality of life and the environment in Austin.
Conduct timely plan reviews and inspections
Our commitment to improving the development services process has resulted in faster plan reviews and inspections, for both commercial and residential customers, since 2015. This trend continued in FY 2020, with 93% of residential plan reviews and 86% of commercial and mixed-use plan reviews completed on time.
Inspectors conducted 369,581 permit inspections in FY 2020, including 17,556 residential building inspections and 18,349 commercial building inspections. Of the total, about 94 percent of all inspections, and more than 96 percent of building inspections, were completed within 24 hours.

Protect and renew Austin's tree canopy
DSD works with the community to maintain Austin’s valuable tree canopy, both by regulating the removal of existing trees and providing community education and support for planting new trees. Continued commitment to these activities by the City Arborist and the Community Tree division helped preserve more than 300,000 inches of native tree canopy, maintaining a recent trend of 31% total land area coverage within Austin.
In FY 2020, Urban Forestry outreach and education programs were named Arboricultural Project of the Year from Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Chapter ISA and received the 2020 Forestry Innovation Award from the Texas Forestry Association. See more tree preservation data.

Properly steward financial resources
DSD’s approved annual budget for FY 2020 was $65.5 million, an increase of $1.7 million (2.7%) over the previous year. The budget increase was primarily a result of city-wide and departmental cost drivers, including community engagement, consulting and temporary staff for the land development code rewrite process; increases in the technology surcharge budget; vehicle replacement costs; and wage adjustments. 
Although the effects of COVID-19 adversely impacted the Department’s overall intake activity, beginning in the second quarter of FY 2020, DSD was able to end the fiscal year at near pre-COVID-19 activity levels. Year-end results reflected lower operating expenses following a shift to online operations, prudent discretionary spending, delayed hiring and the reduction of 32 temporary employee positions. This fiscal stewardship enabled DSD to end the fiscal year with reserves totaling 31% of operating expenses, well above its 17% target. DSD will continue working toward a long-term goal of 50% in reserves with a continuing focus on efficient and resourceful operations.  See the detailed financial data and charts.

Provide excellent customer service
A continued focus on providing a more efficient, streamlined development process for all customers is contributing to improved performance and a better customer experience in many areas. Throughout DSD, both before and after the effects of the pandemic, staff at all levels remained focused on helping customers accomplish their development services needs more quickly and efficiently while ensuring services adapted to customers’ changing needs.
As performance improved, customers reported increased levels of satisfaction in 128 of 140 (91%) survey metrics that assess staff competence, process fairness, ease of use, and other key areas.  See more Customer Satisfaction Poll results.

Improving the customer experience means more than working quickly and treating customers with kindness. While fast, friendly service is important, a positive customer experience results from careful planning and deliberate action before any direct customer interactions occur. For DSD, meaningful, focused stakeholder engagement efforts offer valuable insights, which inform process improvements and investments in new technology enhancements.
Efficient Inspections
The inspections team found creative ways to continue its work safely and make the most of inspectors’ time and resources. The launch of live video inspections empowered inspectors and residents to keep many residential construction projects moving forward safely during the pandemic. Simplified processes now allow residential customers to combine small projects together in one plan review and complete several inspections during one site visit. A realignment of inspector territories, with most inspectors assigned to serve areas closer to their homes, has enabled the team to spend less time driving and more time completing inspections in their service areas.
Digital Transformation (Paper to Cloud)
Thanks to an initiative that began well before teleworking took hold, DSD was positioned for success when it became necessary to transform longstanding paper-intensive development services to a comprehensive digital submission process virtually overnight. Today, customers can submit plans, applications and payments electronically, either through a portal or by email, for all processes. These improvements made remote customer service possible and allowed responsible development to continue during the pandemic.
Cashless Transactions
Both the limitations associated with remote services and a commitment to operate safely when in-person services resume require DSD to offer payment options that do not require the exchange of cash between staff and customers. Expanding the payment process to include more online payment alternatives and the planned addition of an on-site payment kiosk for cashier-free cash payments at the new Permitting and Development Center support these needs.
The percentage of customers using the Austin Build + Connect (AB+C) Portal to pay for services increased from about 48% in FY 2019 to nearly 78% in FY 2020.

Virtual Assistant
As more customers interact with DSD through its website, Austin Build + Connect (AB+C) portal and other online tools, help is readily available through the expanded online CHAT feature available on our most frequently visited web pages. Visitors to web pages for DSD’s Service Center, Residential and Commercial Plan Review, Development Assistance Center, and Land Use Review have this extra resource available to answer questions during business hours and can submit a question after hours for a response the next business day. Staff resolved 7,950 chat inquiries in FY 2020.

Online Tools and Wizards
The conversion to digital processes and modified operations make online tools increasingly important. Today, visitors to DSD’s website can calculate conditional operational capacity, make a preliminary determination of land status, track application and permit activity in specific locations, and even receive notifications about demolition permits that interest them. These new resources join a suite of existing online tools that make it possible to track a range of development activities throughout Austin. During the year, DSD also converted many of its forms and applications to enable them to be completed without printing.
Telework Readiness
By the time COVID-19 made it necessary to work from home, most DSD employees had the tools and resources they needed for success. A mass transition from desktop systems to laptops, along with the widespread launch of teleworking tools such as Microsoft Teams, had provided the initial tools needed. While some groups were new to online meetings before teleworking, the rapid deployment and adoption of teleworking resources and virtual meeting tools have enabled DSD to conduct employee meetings, some customer consultations, and even some events virtually while most employees continue to work remotely.
“I just wanted to say how much I have appreciated the online expedited review team and process. I had my doubts about online working as well as the in-person meetings. But after having completed half a dozen of these meetings online, I can say it is working just as efficiently. The CoA expedited plan review team has adapted well to this process and it is just as efficient (if not more in some aspects) as the in-person meetings. It continues to be a pleasure working with that team on permits. I wish the other major jurisdictions in the state had been able to adapt like Austin has.”

Strider Steele, P.E.
V3 Consulting Engineers

Meaningful Interactions
As new ways of working safely made in-person meetings impossible, DSD adapted its stakeholder meeting and outreach activities to ensure they remained meaningful and effective. Although limitations associated with the pandemic caused a decrease from typical numbers, DSD hosted more than 60 engagements and outreach activities, from stakeholder discussions on proposed rules to neighborhood discussions on tree-related issues. By year’s end, DSD was engaging the community in virtual forums for everything from the annual Roots and Wings Festival celebration to meetings with specific stakeholder segments on issues that matter specifically to them. The Youth Forest Council also began this year, offering immersive, yearlong paid internships for young people interested in careers that support the environment and our communities.
Code Adoption and Awareness
Changes to building codes and other rules that guide development in our community require extensive stakeholder input and awareness efforts, whether in person or through the range of available virtual channels. DSD worked closely with stakeholders in FY 2020 to complete and implement changes to diaper changing accommodations, pool and electrical codes, 911 addresses and other changes. As the City and County issued Public Health orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19, DSD used a variety of communication channels and worked with external contractor organizations to inform stakeholders of these responsibilities.
Process Support
A new Development Process Team began working with residential customers and small business owners to help them navigate the development process and connect them with the right experts along the way. The team hopes to make the process more understandable and accessible, especially for those customers who might have found the intake and permitting process confusing or intimidating due to its complexity.
The team has served more than 1,000 customers since it was formed in October 2019 and hopes to reach more customers in the future as community awareness of its services grows.

While 2020 has defied all plans and expectations, the improvements and initiatives that began the year for DSD proved to be a key contributor to its success when the pandemic impacted nearly every development process. 
As we prepare to reintegrate the workforce and open a new facility to customers in 2021, the promise of continuing improvements remains. We look forward to serving customers in the new Permitting and Development Center. This one-stop-shop, designed specifically for DSD customers’ needs, will bring all City departments involved in the development process under one roof to provide a seamless, dedicated process. Rather than waiting in line for first-come, first-served meetings, customers will be able to schedule online or in-person appointments. And, for those customers who choose to continue completing their work remotely, DSD will continue to build on the virtual customer services environment offered within the Austin Build + Connect portal.
We look forward to continuing to grow and improve with you in the years ahead.

The Development Services Executive Team
Denise Lucas, Director
Beth Culver,  Assistant Director/Building Official, Building Plan Review & Inspections
Rick Holloway, Acting Assistant Director/Chief Inspector, Construction & Environmental Inspections
Andrew Linseisen, Assistant Director, Land Development Review
Angela Means, Assistant Director, Customer and Employee Experience

6310 Wilhelmina Delco Drive  |  Austin, Texas 78752