City raises development fees to encourage more online building applications

With the majority of Fort Worth developers submitting building applications on paper, the Fort Worth City Council voted unanimously Aug. 30 to charge a fee for paper applications in an effort to get more developers to submit their plans online.

“We’re taking out the handling of the paper as much as possible,” Planning and Development Director Randle Harwood said.

The city began taking online applications for permits, zoning and platting last year, Harwood said. So far, about 15 percent of developers have opted to take the digital route – not bad for the first year, Harwood said, but the city wants that number to grow.

To discourage paper submissions, the city will charge $25 for building permit applications, $50 for zoning applications and $50 for platting applications. All applications will be charged $5 to help pay for technology upgrades for the planning and development department. The fees will be effective Oct. 1.

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The fee changes will bring in approximately $536,692 more revenue to the city, which will help pay for technology, additional staffing and operating costs, Harwood said.

The fee increases come as the city faces dramatic growth in development over the past six years. According to city data, 9,974 building permits were issued in fiscal year 2010. In fiscal year 2015, that number jumped to 11,272, with the city projecting to issue 12,026 permits by the end of fiscal year 2016. Plats and right-of-way applications are rising, too, jumping from 297 in fiscal year 2010 to 507 in fiscal year 2015, with 582 applications projected for fiscal year 2016.

“Our intent is to try to have growth pay for growth,” Harwood said. “The things that we do are services primarily to developers or individuals that allow them to have safe buildings and safe infrastructure that goes with that.”

Steven Halliday, partner at Fort Worth-based architecture and planning firm 97w, said he prefers submitting applications online. The city accepts development plans via Accela, a cloud-based program used in more than 2,200 state and local governments worldwide.

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The city doesn’t accept everything via Accela, like change of occupancy applications, for example, Halliday said. Still, he said the online system is generally more efficient, allowing developers to submit plans then receive back a PDF with notes from city staff.

He said he doesn’t have a problem with the city charging fees for paper applications.

“I think the way we’re going is more in a paperless society, honestly,” Halliday said. “I think that it’s just a function of old technologies and moving into the next way that we transmit information.”

Cherryl Peterman’s company, too, submits applications primarily online. Peterman is the president of Winston Services, a Fort Worth-based third-party building inspection company that helps expedite the permitting process through the city.

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She said she sees the city’s move as a step toward a more efficient process, but whether an application is submitted online or on paper, the process will always be complicated by nature.

“Development is not simple,” she said. “By necessity, you have a lot of different people looking at it and touching it in different disciplines. It’s complicated. I don’t know if there’s a way to make it simple.”