Texas Legislature takes aim at permit delays

Any licensed engineer could step in if local government takes too long on building permits

Illustration of Rep. Cody Harris of Anderson
Illustration of Rep. Cody Harris of Anderson (Facebook, Getty)

Disgruntled builders, relief could be on the way, especially if you have a friend who is a licensed engineer. 

A proposal in the Texas House of Representatives could cut wait times for development permits and inspections by offering workarounds for developers whose proposals are stuck in bureaucratic purgatory.  

House Bill 14, introduced by Rep. Cody Harris of Anderson, would require that local authorities hand down decisions on permit applications and inspections within two weeks of their review deadlines. If they fail to do so, then the applications could be reviewed by staff from another municipality or any licensed engineer in the state of Texas. 

The bill is supported by House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, who added the proposal to his list of “priority bills” for the ongoing legislative session. His help will be critical, as legislators will debate hundreds of proposals in a session that only meets every other year and cannot last longer than 140 days. 

“The Texas Legislature must continue to support our state’s rapidly-increasing demand for internet, water and housing,” Phelan, who is a partner at a real estate development firm when he is not legislating, said in a news release. 

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Harris, who declined an interview request, owns a real estate brokerage firm, Liberty Land and Ranch in Palestine. 

The bill applies to any plan or document related to land development that must be approved by a regulatory authority. If the outside reviewer doesn’t approve the plan, then the applicant can appeal, and if the project’s local political authority’s governing body doesn’t affirm the reviewer’s decision within 60 days, the project is deemed “approved.”

In addition to licensed engineers, the bill would also allow municipalities to tap reviewers from other towns and cities, potentially alleviating bottlenecks in overworked districts. 

Builders saw permit wait times grow during the pandemic, with simple administrative forms taking weeks to approve and enter the system. A representative for Austin’s Department of Development Services, which handles permitting in the city, said it was too early for the department to take a stance on the bill, but in 2021, the Austin City Council approved a request from the city’s development services department to hire 41 new staff members to help cut down on wait times. Still, the state faces massive inbound migration and a housing crunch.

“Housing affordability is a legislative priority for Texas Realtors, and the association is working with the Legislature to increase available housing stock,” said Julia Parenteau, the trade group’s public policy director. “However, Texas Realtors is still reviewing this specific bill to understand its impact on the real estate industry.”

Vacancy in Austin reached 9.7 percent in March, according to ApartmentData.com. Some 31,100 units are under construction, with another 35,000 under consideration. The market has cooled from its pandemic heights, but pricing remains elevated from 2021. 

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