Scott Nishimura email@example.com
Fort Worth City Council members appear amenable to proposed increases in fees for a number of services provided by the city’s planning and development department. Officials said during Tuesday’s council meeting that the increases would help close a gap between revenue and the cost of providing the services.
But council members also sought assurances that the department would continue to improve its service quality, which the development community has criticized in the past.
“I think you’ve come a long way, but I think there’s still room for improvement,” Councilman Dennis Shingleton told the planning and development director, Randle Harwood.
“I think you’re making great progress,” Mayor Betsy Price told Harwood. “I think this is a step in the right direction. It’s a big target. We’re getting closer and closer, and you’ll never quite hit the target.”
Council members will vote April 1 on the fee changes.
The changes include increases for zoning cases involving more than 10 acres and preliminary plats. The department also wants to implement 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, would remain the same. The fee for a zoning case involving 5-10 acres would decrease from $1,900 to $1,600.
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, Harwood said.
That would still leave a gap between the service costs – $15.1 million – and projected revenue of $13.25 million, Harwood said.
If the proposed fees are approved, it would be 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, Harwood said.
Harwood said developers were pleased with the department’s recently implemented project facilitation program, which assigns staff “shepherds” to major projects. “There’s been improved customer service, and they’re seeing that,” Harwood said. “There’s more we have to do.”
He said the department recently installed updated software and is “tweaking” it this year. 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.
Councilman Jungus Jordan cited emails the council has received from a city customer who complained about having to take out a permit to replace a front door.
Harwood said the staff reviews ordinances annually and obtains feedback from the development community.
“If you’re just hanging a door, you don’t need a permit,” he added. “The permit is for when you replace the frame and disturb the building.”
Harwood noted that “it’s the prerogative of the council” to decide whether there’s a need for a fee for such a permit.
Fee changes would go into effect May 1, and new fees would 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.