Denver Permit Process Fixes Must Be Tracked

Performance assessments needed to get the most from reform effort

The tangled web of bureaucracy is driving up the costs of development in Denver and sending businesses and development to Lakewood, Aurora and other areas, according to a new report by the city’s multi-agency development council (“Slow permit process adds to costs,” Business, July 8).

The report shows that delays in Denver’s review and permitting process increase the cost of development by 3 percent to 5 percent, serving as a virtual tax on new projects. The development council outlines a series of reforms intended to curb the problems, streamline the city’s development review process and create a more certain regulatory climate for developers.

As a good first step, the report calls for establishing performance goals and a citywide project tracking system that would allow government officials, developers and other stakeholders to see exactly where a project stands under the new development review scheme. This is valuable because projects worth millions of dollars have been needlessly delayed as paperwork floats between city departments with no means of tracking their movement. The bureaucratic black hole proves similarly frustrating to citizens interested in keeping an eye on specific projects in the pipeline that affect their neighborhoods.

But implementing select changes won’t be enough. The development council must establish a monitoring system that demonstrates whether the reforms are actually working. It’s one thing to set goals, but it’s another thing to measure if you’re actually achieving them.

An annual or semi-annual review that compares application processing times to goals and tracks longer-term trends in these metrics is a great place to start. And this reporting should occur at a level of detail (perhaps broken down by project size) that will be useful to future customers in their project planning.

The new project tracking system should provide all of the data the council needs to:

  • Evaluate whether the reforms are having their intended effect of reducing the time spent in the development review process.
  • Identify steps in the process that are hindering timely project approval.
  • Assess whether particular types of projects and permits experience more delay than others.

Reducing the costs of the development process is an extremely worthy and important goal, and the development council needs to devise a system of regular performance assessments to ensure that Denver and its citizens are getting the most from this ambitious reform effort.

Leonard Gilroy is a certified planner and policy analyst at the Reason Foundation