Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Construction is returning to Dallas, and City Hall hopes it's ready - Dallas Morning News (blog)

Even before the recession hit Dallas, there were complaints about the effectiveness and customer service of the city’s building inspections and permits department. That only became worse after the economy sank and large numbers of staff were eliminated at City Hall and the Oak Cliff Municipal Center.

Now, construction is, well not exactly booming, but steadily returning to Dallas. And City Hall is trying to get the building permitting department in shape to handle the increased demand. The city has already hired about 27 of an eventual 57 new staff members in building services. And the plan to hire a new chief building official has drawn more than 160 applicants. The department is funded entirely by the fees pulled in from permitting and inspections â€" so it is always at the mercy of the economy.

Theresa O’Donnell, director of the city’s development department, offered a very sunny picture today of the city’s development trends â€" even if things aren’t quite what they were in the age of easy credit.

“Dirt is flying out there…In 2006 the number of cranes in the air in Dallas, Texas were 38. Now we’ve got 15. We’ve got 15 cranes in the air,” she said.

There are 29 new multi-family projects in the pipeline in Dallas â€" mainly in “safe” areas like Uptown,” she said.

Private sector commercial construction is also up. And while single family housing lags, the high-end single family home market is picking back up.

Construction companies are getting more sophisticated and the city is working to keep up.

Inspectors will be outfitted with IPads from here on out so they can file reports from the field and let contractors know if they passed or failed â€" and why â€" at the time of the inspection. Contractors will also be able to access a “Where’s My Inspector” app so they have a better idea when an inspector might show up at a job site.

At the Oak Cliff Municipal Center, the building inspection office has been resigned. It also has a new server that hopefully will crash less. And, at some point this year, it will be set up with an interactive screen that will allow staff to view and alter drawings and plans in concert with engineers, architects and contractors in other cities. As things stand, much of the work is done standing over paper drawings.

Council members praised O;Donnell’s work turning around the department.

“The reason I know it’s better is I don’t get calls from homeowners, and property owners and contractors complaining anymore,” said council member Ann Margolin.

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