Fort Worth raises development fees to cover more of its costs

By Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth is raising fees for a number of services provided by the city’s planning and development department, to close a gap between revenue and costs of providing the services.

Council members voted 9-0 Tuesday night to make the fee changes, which have been supported by organizations representing the city’s development community.

Council members, in recent discussions over the proposed changes, also sought assurances that the department would continue to improve its service quality, which the development community has criticized in the past.

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“We all realize the cost of business has gone up,” Mark Presswood, chair of the city’s Development Advisory Committee, said in an interview. “It’s been a long time since the development department changed the fees.”

Presswood, president of Panther Real Estate Solutions in Fort Worth, also said the city did a good job of re-examining all of the fees and reducing some that “were too onerous.”

Presswood said he feels the development department has done a good job in recent years of changing its process to make it easier to negotiate.

“Mayor Price has basically said we’ve got to change the culture from regulatory to how can we help get this done,” he said.

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The fee changes include increases for zoning cases involving more than 10 acres and preliminary plats, and new fees in cases where none exist for certain services, including after-hours inspections and applications for trade permits submitted with building permits.

The department, in response to requests from the development community, also is adding some services.

Those include limited certificates of occupancy that allow businesses to move furniture and storage items into portions of buildings that have completed the permit process, and a $250 one-hour, pre-development, question-and-answer conference with all members of the city staff working on the case.

Many fees, such as those for zoning cases involving five acres or less, will remain the same. The fee for a zoning case involving 5-10 acres will decrease from $1,900 to $1,600.

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City Manager Tom Higgins asked the planning and development staff to propose changes that better reflect the cost of providing the services.

The fee changes would generate $902,000 in extra revenue next fiscal year, city staff estimates.

That would still leave a gap between the service costs – $15.1 million – and projected revenue of $13.25 million.

It’s the second time in two years that the planning and development department has raised its prices; last year’s increases resulted from “rounding” some fees. The city has entered an every-two-years cycle of reviewing the fees.

The staff reviewed the proposed changes with the development community beginning last year and got a favorable reaction.

Randle Harwood, the city’s planning and development director, said in a recent council discussion about the fee proposal that developers were pleased with the department’s recently implemented project facilitation program, which assigns staff “shepherds” to major projects.

The department recently installed updated software and is “tweaking” it this year, Harwood told council members.

The city also expects to implement an electronic plans review system this year, a move lauded by council members. Some also said they want to make sure the staff regularly reviews the need for every planning and development requirement.

Fee changes will go into effect May 1, and new fees go into effect July 1.

Some of the affected fees: Zoning change, less than one acre: $1,000, same. Zoning change, one to five acres: $1,300, same. Zoning change, 10-25 acres: $2,000, up from $1,900. Zoning change, more than 25 acres: $3,250, up from $1,900. 100-acre preliminary plat, single family: $3,500, up from $1,075. 100-acre preliminary plat, non-residential: $2,200, up from $1,075.Trade permit without building permit: $25, same. Trade permit with building permit: $25, up from zero. Commercial special exception: $750, up from $400. Commercial variance: $500, up from $400. Commercial additional variance: $75, up from $60. Residential special exception: $300, up from $200. Residential variance: $300, up from $200. Residential additional variance: $75, up from $60.