Millions in construction work bottlenecked by Denver bureaucracy

Delays in permits cause construction headaches

DENVER - Tens of millions of dollars in private sector construction projects are bottlenecked because the City and County of Denver isn't approving permits fast enough to meet the demand, a CALL7 Investigation has found.

Contractors say while work on commercial and residential properties around Denver is plentiful, they often must wait months for bureaucrats to approve their paperwork so they can get started.

Barb Green, a Denver homeowner who wanted a new addition to her home this summer, waited months for an approval.

"It is frustrating because we lost our first contractor because he had to start working," she said. "The other issue, of course, is trying to get all the subcontractors and their schedules to work with us. It is hard on everybody. It's not just inconvenient for us."

Meanwhile, Marty Harrison, a contractor who works in Denver, says he has $2 million worth of construction work in limbo.

"I've got four projects in the building department right now -- one has been in since May," he said.

Contractors are not allowed to begin a project until the city gives the OK. The process is taking months.

Architects like David Tryba, who has designed some of the city's more prominent commercial buildings and many residential projects, has felt the impact of delays as the economy began to rebound. Many of his clients are frustrated with the delays.

"So if you miss a cycle or you miss a season -- if interest rates go up -- it can be absolutely devastating to a project," he said.

Steve Ferris, Denver's new director of Development Services, who has only been on the job for two months, concedes the delays are a problem.

"We want to acknowledge that it does take long to get a permit together and we are doing something about it," he told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.

Ferris says the delays are directly tied to the 2008 recession. Our investigation found his office has lost 40 employees in the past five years because of budget cutting.

He has responded by authorizing overtime and working on technological ways to streamline the permitting process.

Both Ferris, and those served by his city agency, agree that city employees are working hard but are simply overwhelmed.

"…we are working through the budget process of the city to hire more people," Ferris added.

He says there is no "instant fix."

"What's the timeline?" Ferrugia asked Ferris.

"I'd like to say it's going to be about a year," Ferris replied.

Clearly that is no consolation to homeowners, contractors and architects who are trying to take advantage of the economic recovery.  All say the bottleneck is holding back Denver's economy.

Ferris said he understands why people who are waiting on permits are so frustrated.

"Yes, I can understand that: Time is money in this business," he said, adding, "The sheer number -- amount -- of construction projects that is going on is a challenge for us and we are doing our best to correct that."

Says architect David Tryba, "It's devastating because it is like being in a big traffic jam where you hurry up and then you stop."

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