Navigating Zoning and Permitting Challenges in DFW

The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex continues to experience rapid growth, driving significant construction activity across the region. However, zoning and permitting issues can pose challenges for developers and contractors. We spoke with Wes Hoblit, Managing Director of Masterplan, and Kyle Whitesell, President of Bob Moore Construction, to gain insights into common obstacles and best practices for navigating the pre-construction phase in DFW.

Zoning Hurdles

When assessing a potential development site, the first question to ask is whether the intended use is permitted by right. “[If not], or if there are other issues with the site, such as parking, easements, or setback concerns, you need to assess the issue and determine the best route forward,” Hoblit said. This may involve seeking a zoning change, board of adjustment approval, or abandoning the site if the use does not align with city code and zoning is deemed non-viable.

Supplemental uses, which impose additional requirements for specific zoning categories based on proximity to other existing zoning or certain uses, can also cause delays in construction timelines. “Plans need to be designed with these specific requirements in mind,” Hoblit noted.

Permitting Challenges

Permitting has evolved into its own discipline, especially since the onset of COVID-19. “Unrealistic timelines for permits are the largest issue,” Hoblit said. “Due to the volume of permits larger cities receive each day, it takes about 1-2 weeks to intake and begin the initial review of the application.”

There is also no such thing as a perfect plan. Cities will correct, amend, or request alterations to ensure the plans fit into their respective requirements or formatting. The permitting process can range from three to four weeks for smaller projects like tenant finishes to multiple months for larger, new construction.

“Each municipality in North Texas has its unique permitting process. We’ve found that investing time upfront to understand these processes helps us set realistic timelines for our clients. It’s also crucial to factor in potential revisions and allow for flexibility in the project schedule,” Whitesell added.

“Balancing functionality, aesthetics, and building codes during design development is a collaborative effort.”

Balancing Design and Code Compliance

Balancing functionality, aesthetics, and adherence to building codes during the design development phase depends on the flexibility of the design. “If the design requires specific materials or designs due to a national footprint and a desire to maintain brand consistency, that design may not align with the existing city code,” Hoblit explained. In such cases, seeking a variance or deviation from the code may be the best course of action.

However, building designs must not negatively impact any life-safety requirements put in place by the city. “These are extremely unlikely to be altered or approved due to the importance of the code,” Hoblit cautioned.

“Balancing functionality, aesthetics, and building codes during design development is a collaborative effort. We work closely with architects and engineers to ensure that the building meets both the client’s vision and the city’s requirements. It’s important to maintain open lines of communication to resolve any conflicts that may arise,” Whitesell said.

Streamlining the Approval Process

Creating meaningful working relationships with city staff and treating everyone with respect and patience is crucial for streamlining the approval process. “Your permit is not the only one they are working on, and by not being overly pushy or impatient, they are much more likely to work with you to resolve the permitting issues and approve the permit,” Hoblit said.

“Building a good rapport with city staff is invaluable for streamlining the permit process. We’ve learned that approaching the process with patience and professionalism fosters positive working relationships, which ultimately benefits the project,” Whitesell added.

For architects, “over labeling” plans with terms that may be unfamiliar to plans examiners can hinder the approval process. “The simpler the plans are, the better,” Hoblit advised. “Collaboration between the owner, architect, and general contractor is key. By aligning on the simplicity and clarity of plans, we can avoid confusion during the approval process while still getting a building that meets the owner’s needs,” Whitesell noted.

“By aligning on the simplicity and clarity of plans, we can avoid confusion during the approval process,”

Risk Management Practices

Thoroughly understanding and adhering to the specific requirements outlined in each city’s code is paramount for mitigating potential disruptions during the pre-construction phase. “Reading and then rereading the city code of the city you are submitting permits to is essential,” Hoblit emphasized. “Every city is different, and one city may have fewer requirements than others or more requirements than others.”

“From our experience, the key to navigating zoning and permitting issues lies in early and clear communication with the relevant city departments. We often engage with city planners early on to identify potential concerns and address them proactively. This helps in mitigating delays later in the process,” Whitesell said.

By proactively addressing zoning and permitting challenges, developers and contractors can position their projects for success in the thriving DFW construction market. Contact Bob Moore Construction to discuss partnering on your next project.

Our thanks to Wes Hoblit and Masterplan for their contributions to this article.