Denver’s State of the City 2006 II: Unfinished Business

Denver Mayor Hickenlooper has made progress on many points in Denver: balancing a budget deep in the red, developing a plan to address homelessness, independent police review, the size of the police force, a justice center, 3-1-1 service, a settlement of the United Airlines bankruptcy debts to DIA, paving alleys, rethinking parking enforcement, an overhaul of zoning rules, a new franchise agreement with Xcel Energy that goes to voters on August 8, and more.  But, at least one thorn remains in the side of Hickenlooper’s agenda: business permits.

In his 2004 state of the city address Hickenlooper said:

We are streamlining our permitting processes. When complete; and this will take some time; some developers will choose Denver, not just for the market opportunities, but for the savings achieved through our efficienprocessss. We will review plans with all essential people at the same time, rather than in lengthy procession. We will limit the changes the City can make after the review process, except in circumstances involving risks to health and safety. And we will cross-train our staff, creating efficiencies in time and resources; from plan reviews to inspections.

We will continue to support small businesses. We have streamlined the certification process for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, so that a single application is recognized by both the City and the State. We will create a one-stop small business assistance center, in partnership with the Small Business Administration and the State, where small businesses can find the support they need. I want to particularly thank the Governor, and his staff, for their partnership on both of these initiatives.

A new building code is in place, but two years later, this mission still isn’t accomplished. The building inspection department, for example, states that:

The rate of building permit applications being logged in for review is steadily increasing. This, coupled with a tremendous backlog of permit applications has seriously strained the department’s review staff.

It’s internal objectives call for processing 75% of business permit applications in a month to a month and a half of city time, in addition to time between stages that require action from the applicant, and of course, this means that even when the goals are met, a quarter of all applications take longer, sometimes much longer.

One stop shopping is still more pipedream than reality as well.

Delays in permitting new business often take months and can cost them thousands of dollars of month in lost profits, interest on business loans, and cost somebody, either a landlord or a new business, months of lost revenues in spaces left empty until a permit arrives, yet businesses like the downtown Perk and Pub and a restaurant planned on Sante Fe near the I-25 exit, have collapsed in he face not of permit denials, but permit delays, and other have been delayed for months before eventually getting permission to open. 

H.B. 1009, just passed by the General Assembly in the special session to address immigration issues and takes effect on January 1, 2007, which will require citizenship checks of new business permits, promises to only make the matter worse.  The problem is not so much that many applicants can’t present a driver’s license or state ID that appears on its face to be valid, which is virtually all the bill requires, but that the entire permit process and all associated forms must be revised to reflect this new requirement.

Cross Posted at Wash Park Prophet.


Hickenlooper said in his speech:

Since it opened in January 2005, the Denver Business Assistance Center