AUSTIN (KXAN) - A tremendous backlog in building permits is handcuffing Austin homeowners.
The City of Austin's planning and review department has had 75-percent of its staff turnover in the last year. Now inexperienced employees are dealing with a mounting workload.
"I've been in the business 35 years," said Planning and Review Department assistant director Don Birkner. "I've never seen anything exactly like this."
Stress on the job, and personal issues, have led to the fallout, but the situation could get even worse before it gets better. As of November 27, the City of Austin had 652 permit cases dating back to late September, yet to be reviewed. By January 1, 2013 they expect that number to rise to one thousand.
In a letter to the Mayor and City Council on November 30, Planning and Review Department Director Gregory Guernsey requested an immediate need for two full-time planners, two senior planners, and an extra large scanner. But, it could take 3-6 months to get caught up with those additions.
"Even if the council approves something today," said Birkner. "It takes me 30 days to advertise, another x-amount of time for people to get here, and time to train them."
Those affected by the backlog say there's a bigger problem.
Bill Moore decided to move his business to Austin instead of Palo Alto, California. He's trying to renovate a 1922 house on West 6th Street into offices, but his employees are working from home because of permitting delays.
"The problem has been a sequence of hassles," said Moore, who founded the mobile app Zello. "We have not yet, in 3 months into it, even been able to apply for a permit."
Construction workers are also sitting idle without a paycheck, until the permits get approved. Homeowners have to make other arrangements for living until the projects get completed.
Peter Pfeiffer is an architect in Austin and thinks the permitting office can use good judgment and common sense, over strict guidelines and questioning on land ordinances to alleviate the process.
"How can we handle situations where the process doesn't make sense," said Pfeiffer. "Where the land development code doesn't really apply appropriately, that's the bigger question that needs to be asked."
A process that typically takes two weeks, is now taking three months. And, if a permit is submitted incorrectly, the applicant must re-submit the forms in the back of the pile.
University of Texas System regents say they're planning to discuss the employment of Austin campus President Bill Powers, who has sparred with lawmakers and critics over his job in recent years.
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