FY 2022: A Year of Community Investment
Message from Director Lucas
In a year characterized by continued growth, unprecedented demand for housing, and the triumphant return of the events and activities that reflect our diverse local culture, the City of Austin Development Services Department (DSD) has continued to adapt and refine processes and programs to support our community’s needs.
Recent industry data indicate Austin is leading the nation in new residential building permits, on a per-capita basis. With more than 1 million residents now calling Austin home, policymakers continue to explore opportunities to support responsible development. This means creating new and improved housing options, supporting the development of infrastructure for transportation and other public services, and helping commercial development in our growing economy fulfill often-complex code requirements designed to protect public safety and the environment.
Accomplishing those needs in a way that is equitable for all residents is at the very heart of DSD’s daily operations and strategic planning activities. This year, we focused our investment on core community services and worked to improve the community’s access and experience through more efficient processes and procedures, enhanced access to information, lower fees, and a strengthened equity lens.
It is my pleasure to present this annual report highlighting DSD’s Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 2022) accomplishments, activities, and initiatives that are helping to create the path to a future Austin that serves all our residents, at work, at home, and at play.
Denise Lucas, Director
City of Austin Development Services Department
The City of Austin Development Services Department (DSD) is a team of approximately 500 dedicated public servants, who focus on administration of the City’s plan review, permitting, and inspection processes. Along with our partner departments, we work to help homeowners, business owners and contractors comply with applicable City and building codes when they build, demolish, remodel, or perform any construction in the City of Austin, and when planning special events. We collectively ensure compliant and sustainable development; protect the environment and urban forest; help ensure special events follow safety guidelines; and help homeowners, business owners, contractors, event managers, neighborhood groups, and other area residents understand and apply existing codes.
Together, we focus on ensuring our built environment is safe, our special events are vibrant, and our services are accessible.
DSD is located at the Permitting and Development Center (PDC), a multidepartment facility that opened in July 2021, offering a new take on the development experience, and complementing the growing range of virtual options that are now available for the Austin community. The facility has received several awards recognizing its environmentally conscientious design and operation, including becoming the first project in Austin to receive WELL Gold Certification.
FY 2022 by the Numbers
Strategic Direction 2023 (SD23)
DSD continued to make progress on the goals set forth in Strategic Direction 2023 (SD23). This governance framework helps to maintain the City’s focus on its long-term vision so we continue to move forward 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.
This outcome-based approach to setting priorities and budgeting enables the City to proactively address multiple time horizons, more thoughtfully assess performance, and improve community outcomes.
Serving the Community’s Wide-Ranging Needs
In FY 2022, DSD implemented innovative, customer-focused solutions to help serve a variety of demands related to rapid growth and development in Austin.
Making Austin Home
The community’s drive to develop housing continued in FY 2022, intensified by sustained growth, affordability concerns, displacement in established communities, and a growing population of unhoused residents. DSD permitted approximately 27,000 new dwelling units in FY 2022, from single-family residences to apartments in multi-family complexes to permanent supportive housing communities.
In support of Austin’s critical affordable housing and permanent supportive housing needs, DSD created an Affordable Housing Office. The Affordable Housing team works closely with community partners to ensure these developments move quickly and smoothly through the interdepartmental development process. This year, the program was expanded to include additional resources and enhanced services in an effort to intensify DSD’s role in realizing the City’s housing goals. In a very short period of time, the team assisted more than 100 affordable and permanent supportive housing developments through the plan review and permitting process, which will ultimately result in hundreds of new affordable units in the City of Austin in the near future.
A Growing Skyline
As Austin’s skyline grows, it is filling with structures of unprecedented height and unique shapes and features. The DSD team completed almost 21,000 reviews for proposed commercial projects in FY 2022, including buildings that are taller than any that currently exist in Austin. Increasingly innovative building designs, such as the first-ever high-rise to incorporate innovative “performance-based wind design,” have required DSD structural engineers to bring a fresh perspective to reviewing for structural stability, emphasizing Austin’s leadership in the realm of structural review.
Home and Business Improvements
In addition to managing demands for new housing, DSD continued to review, permit and inspect projects to help homeowners, area businesses and others take the steps needed to convert their visions into reality. DSD issued 55,206 residential permits and 16,024 commercial permits in FY 2022 for new construction, renovations, expansions, additions, and other improvements to existing properties. This permitting activity resulted in a total of 359,853 inspections which, when combined, results in a safer built environment for all.
Austin is home to a thriving live music and special events community that attracts attendees from near and far. The recent return of large-scale events brought a significant focus on event permitting, planning, and safety, as the Austin Center for Events collaborated with event organizers to process 1,031 applications and issue 764 special event permits.
Building on an Improved Customer Experience
High volumes of development activity resulted in heavy workloads throughout DSD, from intake to inspections. In FY 2022, a total of 184 full-time employees were hired in DSD. Staffing turnover continued to be a factor, and at any given point over the fiscal year, almost 1/3 of the DSD workforce was new to their role. Despite these challenges, the department was able to adjust processes and workflows, realign staff to leverage experience and expertise, and enhance training to improve performance in many areas, and overall met target turnarounds 87.4 percent of the time.
Customers also gained access to simpler tools and streamlined services, which made application, permitting, and inspection processes simpler to navigate, manage, and complete, regardless of expertise.
Process Improvement and Policy Implementation
DSD took numerous steps in FY 2022 to improve efficiency and performance in many areas of the development process. These new processes, policies, and programs, all of which were implemented in response to community feedback, include:
New Expedited Team
The Expedited Building Plan Review program added a third team of reviewers, which expanded appointment capacity and enabled customers to meet with staff more quickly for combined multidisciplinary reviews. The Expedited team processed nearly 1,000 applications in FY 2022 and significantly reduced the wait time for meetings.
DSD performed 393,563 inspections in FY 2022, including residential and commercial buildings, environmental and tree inspections, site and subdivisions, sound enforcement, telecommunications, and utility cuts. The Building Inspections team expanded its combined inspection options for residential customers and made it easier to communicate directly with assigned inspectors after inspections are scheduled. Customers can also now schedule Environmental and Tree Inspections directly through interactive maps for either Residential or Commercial customers, resulting in an improved customer experience.
Focused Wednesdays and Update Fridays
Plan Review Intake teams and the Service Center implemented a new appointment structure and updated hours, reserving Wednesdays to process submitted applications and permit requests. This ensures staff can address incoming and pending inquiries effectively. The Residential and Commercial Plan Review teams also continued the stakeholder initiated “Update Fridays,” which began as a pilot the previous year. Friday work hours are now reserved to review updated applications and finish reviews that are running beyond target timelines. These adjustments enable targeted reviews and result in faster application processing.
New notification requirements became part of the demolition permitting process this year, as property owners removed existing structures to make way for new development. DSD provided guidance and materials to support compliance by contractors, and a total of 1,171 demolition permits were issued during FY 2022.
Information and Services
In FY 2022, DSD developed a variety of new information resources, learning opportunities, and improved customer service solutions to help improve understanding and accessibility of the development process.
- Code Interpretation Library: This library, launched in January 2022, includes all formal DSD interpretations of Land Development Code provisions. It will continue to grow over time, including addition of interpretations from other departments.
- Directory of Services: This listing of all City of Austin development-related services provides quick access from every DSD webpage to application resources, process guidance, and appointment options.
- Land Development Information Services: The Development Assistance Center has been recreated as Land Development Information Services. This group provides technical guidance and consultations for Land Development Review customers, as well as small businesses and homeowners who need help navigating the development process.
- Improved Chat Features: DSD’s online chat feature, available during business hours Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday on the DSD homepage and other key webpages, now offers chatbots to help direct customers to the right place for online help more quickly and efficiently.
- Expanded Appointment Scheduler: The improved PDC appointment scheduler now provides service descriptions and additional information and resources to help customers ensure they connect with the right team for the services they need, both virtually and in-person. Customers can now use this tool to make development-related appointments with DSD, Austin Fire, Austin Public Health, and Austin Water.
- Get Tree Smart: The City Arborist team’s Get Tree Smart series returned in FY 2022, offering popular monthly training sessions about tree-related rules and regulations in Austin.
- Event Guide: The ACE Event Planning Guide helps event planners know what to expect when seeking a permit for a special event in Austin, including information about fees, providing security, the permit process, and other City of Austin requirements.
Asking the Right Questions
In most cases, development and permitting processes at DSD start with some type of form. DSD continued to improve how it gathers information from customers, which helps ensure review and permitting processes start with all the right answers.
- Web forms and Wizards: Over the course of the fiscal year, several disciplines — including Residential, Commercial and Land Use Review Intake, the Service Center, Site Plan Exemptions, and Site Plan Applications — added interactive web forms or wizards, which are accessible from the DSD website using a computer, tablet, or other mobile device. These web- and logic-based systems simplify the application submittal process by asking key questions and providing interactive guidance for online customers.
- Fillable Forms and Applications: A recently improved Forms & Applications page on the DSD website offers the most current forms, applications, and checklists, along with clear explanations to help customers use them correctly.
Both web forms and downloadable forms and applications typically link to other online resources and checklists to help customers and DSD staff manage application activity more efficiently, effectively, and transparently.
Processing Applications and Requests More Quickly
As a result of many of these process improvements and tools mentioned above, DSD took significant steps to improve the customer experience and reduce turnaround times for many of the development processes the department manages. Efforts continue to reduce these turnaround times — referred to as “cycle times” in other DSD processes, particularly in areas where the need for qualified engineers remains a significant challenge.
Evaluating Costs and Fees
In keeping with DSD’s commitment to continually refine the development fee structure to reflect current cost of service, a fee analysis was conducted in FY 2022 in preparation for the FY 2023 budget. As a result of this analysis, nearly half of DSD fees for development-related work decreased by 10 percent. The revised fee structure also consolidated and removed fees, eliminated DSD fees for services provided by other departments, and implemented a new fee structure for special events and outdoor music venues that will move to a full cost-recovery model over time.
Supporting Austin’s Values and Culture
DSD’s responsibilities to our community extend beyond plan reviews and permits. The work the department does facilitates and supports affordable and permanent supportive housing, public projects, entertainment options, a clean and healthy environment, and the strong economy that sets Austin apart and makes it a world-class city.
Bringing Austin Back Together
In FY 2022, the Austin Center for Events (ACE), led by DSD, prepared the Austin community for a record number of visitors as world-renowned special events, including Austin City Limits, South by Southwest (SXSW), and Formula One; as well as local events, such as the Austin Pride Parade, the Historical Juneteenth Parade, Viva la Vida Fest, and Austin’s New Year, returned in-person. These large and small events are an invaluable part of Austin’s culture and are a critical part of the local economy, with major events reporting more than a billion dollars in cumulative spending surrounding these events.
ACE put event guidelines in place for public health and safety, coordinated with event organizers, and completed almost 2,000 special event reviews in FY 2022. Collectively, the departments that make up ACE provided support and resources event organizers needed to hold safe and successful events.
The ACE team also worked with the City’s Special Events Task Force to amend the City’s Special Events Ordinance, which received Council approval in February 2022. Among other requirements, the Code amendments established tiers for different levels of events based on size and other factors.
Also important to Austin’s restaurant culture was the implementation of the newly established Parking Lot Patio Program (PLPP). This program grew from the Shop the Block program, which offered flexibility in operations in response to COVID-19 and allows local businesses to expand outdoor seating and retail activities into patio areas.
Recognizing and Supporting a Diverse Community
In FY 2022, DSD launched an Equity and Inclusion program. This team has reviewed departmental policies to ensure employees have the tools and training they need to apply an equity lens to all DSD activities. Through their work, this team has identified opportunities to improve access to, and understanding of, DSD’s programs throughout the Austin community in the coming years.
Connecting with Neighborhoods
Austin neighborhoods all reflect the community’s values in their own ways, and the Neighborhood Assistance Center (NAC) is working to meet them where they live. While most DSD activities focus on supporting ongoing development, the NAC serves the non-applicant community, connecting neighborhoods with useful information and tools to help interested stakeholders understand the development rules and processes that affect their neighborhoods.
In FY 2022, this team supported more than 70 neighborhood groups to address issues on a community scale and worked to set the stage for more proactive engagement in the future. The team also updated Austin’s Community Registry and continues to offer a broad range of community resources.
Pictured: Leah and Mary Helen from the Neighborhood Assistance Center next to Austin's "Won't you be my Neighbor?" mural.
Bringing the Environment Home
DSD activities help support Austin’s healthy environment in numerous ways, from the Land Use Review process to Urban Forestry outreach and programs to Environmental and Tree Inspections. By educating the community, building stewardship, and holding development accountable, DSD supports sustainable development throughout Austin now and in the future.
The Community Tree Report, published in August 2022, highlighted the City’s significant investment in the urban forest from funds the City receives when trees are removed for development projects, as well as donations from the community. In FY 2022, $1.24 million in urban forest funds went to projects that supported tree planting and distribution, tree care and disease control, and community outreach and education.
Listening to the Community
In FY 2022, staff connected with thousands of Austin residents through a variety of engagement activities, hosted virtually and in-person. These meetings represented a spectrum of development-related topics, including but not limited to general stakeholder meetings, changes to Technical Criteria Manuals, code and policy amendments, and FY 2023 fees.
Stay tuned to the DSD website calendar for future opportunities to engage.
Laying the Foundation for Our Community’s Future
FY 2023 brings new opportunities to address the community needs outlined here and prepare for future success. As DSD continues its work to build an improved customer experience, these community-focused initiatives remain priorities:
Paving the Way for Equity and Access
DSD made great progress in FY 2022 with regard to enhancing equity and access. In FY 2023, the department will continue to build on that progress, engaging more homeowners and small business owners who use development-related services to ensure DSD is positioned to serve all Austinites effectively and thoughtfully.
Revisiting the Customer and Employee Experience
In FY 2023, DSD will redefine its performance metrics, allowing the department to make well-informed decisions and identify and implement key improvements. With evolving business processes and community needs, including the need to provide equitable services both in-person and virtually, DSD will take steps to ensure performance is measured in a way that is transparent and reflects the experience of all customers and employees.
Keeping Public Projects and Complex Developments on Track
As a key contributor to the development process, DSD will continue to provide leadership, working to streamline the development process, enhance interdepartmental coordination, and provide a more consistent customer experience. As part of those improvements, the new interdepartmental Public Projects Team will focus on reviewing vital public infrastructure projects, as well as high-priority affordable and permanent supportive housing developments.
Planning the Future from All Perspectives
DSD undertook a comprehensive strategic plan this past year, in a process that involves employees at all levels and incorporates input from customers and other stakeholders. For much of the fiscal year, employee teams explored opportunities to improve communication, finance and strategic decision making. In FY 2023, that work will transition to implementation and will help inform DSD’s contribution to the City of Austin’s next five-year plan, Strategic Direction 2028.
Through all these exciting changes, DSD remains committed to our mission of supporting a vibrant community through responsible development. Stay tuned to our progress, along with updates on development policies and processes, by subscribing to our monthly newsletter, Building Connections, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.