The upcoming Denver Mayoral Election is nearly over with the last day to vote on April 4 by 7 PM (Mail-in Ballots must be sent today, March 27th). Michael Hancock has been the long-time holding incumbent of the office for the last 12 years. This term, 17 candidates have their hats in the ring to become Denver’s new Mayor. With those candidates, a handful of them is calling for reform or improvements when it comes to Denver’s own construction and permitting process. For years now, the City and County of Denver have been plagued with increasingly long review and permitting times. A problem that has extended into both commercial construction and residential construction. Many argue (including these 4 candidates) the barriers in place are causing unnecessary delays, especially for a city that is combatting record lows in housing inventory and impressive highs in costs. Until something is done, the ever-growing backlog in the City’s Community Planning and Development Department will never be resolved.
Delays in Average Plan Review Times
For the construction industry here in Denver, every general contractor and commercial construction company is aware of Denver’s Average Plan Review Times. Denver has acknowledged the significant delays that are stemming from their plan review process which is responsible for approving building permits. At the height of the problem, Denver Approval Times For Building Permits Breached 300 Days. Since then, however, the city has tried its best to alleviate the pain with focused work weeks devoted to reviewing plans and hiring third-party assistance. Still, the problem continues on into this year and hopeful mayoral candidates have taken a position on the issue.
Currently, Time to Permit Approval for a major residential project is projected at 260 days, while a major commercial project is at 322 days.
The Reality of the Building in Denver
Recent reporting by the Denver Gazette indicates that if a housing developer intends to construct a building in Denver, they should allocate a budget of up to two years for obtaining a building permit. This is significant because, in construction, time is equivalent to money. These conditions have begun to dissuade a large number of commercial contractors from building and land development within Denver is nearly at a standstill for future submittals. In fact, the most recent update to building regulations in Denver introduced even more cost. Denver’s Affordable Housing Ordinance caused an 80% drop in plan submittals after the new ordinance went into effect. Although, altruistically positioned the new ordinance has effectively scared off a large number of future developments that could have built new housing for Denver.
Over on the residential side, the prolonged delays are just as disastrous to families looking to build or improve their own homes. Major remodeling, pop-top additions, and custom homes are subjected to a lengthy review process that seems to be held down by convoluted zoning criteria and other department delays. Combined with the volatility of building materials and trade costs, families are quickly getting priced out of their home improvement dreams.
The Mayoral Candidates Taking Aim
Kelly Brough, Debbie Ortega, Robert Treta, and Andy Rougeot presented their plans for the best way to address the issue. Following the Denver Gazette’s reporting on the last major’s debate, some of the candidate’s positions can be summarized:
Treta, an experienced builder who is familiar with the nuances of Denver’s permitting process says, “You relegate the building department to a zoning-only review, everything else gets done through the engineer of record,” he said. “The city has put too much micromanagement into every single project It is just ridiculous.”
Debbie Ortega, having a seat on the council since 1987, states she has knowledge of the inner workings of the departments and can identify the inefficiencies. “I really believe it may need to be a standalone agency that works with all of the different folks who have to sign off on the permits.”
Brough, the former president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, recalled the backlogs from a year ago, calling them “terrible.” She also remembers a massive influx that came in due to the city’s new affordable housing law changes in Denver — requiring multi-family developers to include a certain portion of affordable units or pay a fee. She suggests similar action like Ortega with additional help but also includes a new team to help field inquiries and submittals during the initial contact.
When is a good time to build despite the ongoing problems?
Sustainable Design Build is looking forward to seeing the outcome of Denver’s Mayoral Election and hopefully the solution to the ongoing building permit woes. The current landscape for construction within Denver is complicated and filled with multiple parts. However, those alone are not enough to stop people from the building. Sustainable Design Build is still operating with a high demand for both residential construction and commercial construction. With experience acting as a general contractor and the process of a design-build firm, clients are seeing success navigating the lengthy process of construction. Sustainable Design Build is happy to discuss the pros and cons of building in Denver in order to provide the best possible advice in pursuing a construction project. For more information feel free to contact or reach out to SDB at any time.
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