The Heavy Burden of Building Plan Review Backlogs

by | Jul 27, 2017

The Heavy Burden of Building Plan Review Backlogs:
Who they impact and why they’ve got to go

Whether you’re a city administrator, community development leader, or building official, you’re probably all-too-familiar with the frustrations that go along with building plan review delays. Construction booms can bring an onslaught of permit applications that your staff might not be equipped to handle. Yet the thought of hiring more reviewers during these peak times, only to find your department overstaffed when construction activity wanes, is equally stressful.

A lack of communication between permit applicants, departments, and jurisdictions can also cause problems and draw out the review process. Uninformed applicants don’t know what’s needed when submitting a plan or why a project requires a design professional. Meanwhile, comments continue to pile up after plans have already been resubmitted, and the list of hold-ups goes on.

Lengthy permit turnarounds and building plan review backlogs are an unfortunate trend in communities across the country. Municipal leaders and building officials certainly experience a good portion of the headaches that go along with them. But there are plenty of pain points to pass around. The backlog burden is one that’s shared among municipalities, developers, residents, and communities as a whole—posing short- and long-term implications that hamper improvement and growth.

Municipalities and building departments

When municipalities like yours get buried under building plan review backlogs, whether due to an influx in permit applications, inadequate staffing, or ambiguous submittal requirements, the challenges can seem daunting. With permit backlogs comes a flood of complaints from developers who are waiting to get in the ground and residents who want to see their homes and other projects completed. When developers can’t get their permits quickly, projects come to a standstill, meaning empty lots and unfinished jobs for your community.

To make matters worse, disgruntled developers might go elsewhere in search of more efficient service. And as the backlogs build up, your department’s bottom line suffers since you aren’t efficiently collecting permit fees.

Developers and residents

But the frustrations of plan review backlogs don’t end with the municipality or building department. Developers, architects, owners, and residents feel the pain too.

For most of these people, time is money. Homeowners might have a bank loan acquiring interest while their dream home sits on hold awaiting the necessary building permits. At the same time, a builder has his or her crew sitting around and fears losing subcontractors if the project doesn’t get started soon. Moreover, an architect can’t collect final payment until his or her project is complete.


And let’s not forget the overarching impact of building plan review backlogs on your community. Towns and cities with reputations for slow permit processes face major fallout, missing out on investments that lead to thriving local economies. As development projects halt, lots stand empty, leading to unsightliness and blight that do little to attract new residents or developers.

Increased blight and weakened economies often translate to lower property values. And with limited construction activity, communities can face housing crises that lead to inflated costs for homebuyers and renters alike.

A way out of backlogs

It’s true that some municipalities might be so overwhelmed by backlogs that they can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. But there are ways to dig out of the backlogs (or avoid them altogether), emerge from stagnant processes, and free your community from the burdens they bring.

Over the past 25 years, SAFEbuilt has partnered with communities of all shapes and sizes across the country—helping them guarantee fast plan review turnarounds that put an end to dreaded backlogs. In our next two posts, we will sum up our experience in “4 Steps Toward Faster Building Plan Reviews.” These proven strategies include:

  1. Streamlining plan reviews – approaches to a more expedient plan review process
  2. Implementing proactive performance goals and metrics – ways to measure performance and ensure ongoing improvement
  3. Encouraging rock-solid communication – the importance of internal and external transparency
  4. Getting flexible, experienced staffing – actions to make your staff more efficient

So join us on the journey and help your community rise above slow development and backlog woes. Discover our tried-and-true ways to improve internal efficiencies and master the art of quick turnarounds today.


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