The Small Lot Exemption: More Homes for People or More Storage for Cars?

Last Tuesday, Denver City Council decided to extend the moratorium on the development of small lots for an additional 60 days in order to reach consensus. So, while other major cities are eliminating parking requirements altogether, Denver seems poised to move backward.

Last week in the Land Use, Transportation, and Infrastructure committee (LUTI), some councilmembers expressed concern that the small lot text amendment fails to address the problem. They have mis-identified the problem. Neighborhood groups opposed to the text amendment would like to make the problem about how small lot development might compromise their ability to park their private property for free on public streets. They are incorrect. The problem is not a parking issue, it’s a housing one, and the text amendment addresses this problem in a fair way.

The real “problem” is that Denver is growing.

And because we continue to ensure that cars are the most convenient way to get around, people who move here keep bringing their cars with them. A recent article in the Denver Post concluded that Metro Denver needs to build 16,000 to 18,000 new homes a year to keep pace with the jobs we’re adding. The article also indicates that “More of the mix will also need to shift from higher-end properties to lower-priced units, where margins are thinner but demand is higher,” i.e. small lot development.

Why is this a housing issue and not a parking one? Because if we don’t start building enough housing closer to the urban core, folks will find it in the suburbs where their mobility options are much more limited. We will be condemning people to be car-dependent whether they would prefer access to multiple transportation options or not, and if 16,000 to 18,000 people per year bring their cars here, the problem of traffic and parking will not get better anytime soon. We can’t keep planning the same way and hoping for a different outcome. The small lot text amendment, even though it would require some parking where none was required before, at least represents the right way of thinking about this problem.

If we lift the moratorium and put the text amendment in place, it may very well become increasingly inconvenient for some folks to park their private property for free on public streets. But the text amendment smartly offers incentives for development along transit corridors and it offers incentives for developers who want to further encourage other modes of getting around.

To address the traffic problem in Denver, we need more housing within the urban core of the city now, and we need to encourage its development along transit corridors. Since welcoming more cars into our city is simply not sustainable, we also need to encourage the development of housing that doesn’t incentivize this harmful, but currently convenient, way that people move. City leaders need to make sure they’re planning for a future bike/ped/transit-reliant city, not the car-dependent city we are today. A car-dependent future city is a bleak thought indeed.

For more info on how you can help, see YIMBY Denver’s Call to Action:


Andy Sense started thinking about his relationship to the built environment as a bike commuter and a dad of two young kids who are learning to be bike riders. He is a graduate of INC’s Citizens’ Planning Academy and Transit Alliance’s Citizens’ Academy. He also considers himself incredibly fortunate to be able to participate in our civic conversation as a member of the Blueprint Denver Task Force.

By | 2017-03-03T04:20:43+00:00 February 24, 2017|Categories: Advocacy, Attainable Housing, YIMBY Denver|Tags: |5 Comments


  1. TakeFive February 27, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    When the small lot exemption was created nobody even knew what a micro-unit was. It was done for entirely different purposes. I said months ago that if tenants in micro-units don’t need cars then simply require landlords to rent to (mostly) car-free tenants. But nobody seems to have picked up on that obvious solution. Oh wait… Councilman Jolon Clark, a Denver native, has.

    Thinking that developer/landlords are an altruistic lot sounds like lot-mess in-the-making. More importantly, small lot micro-units would be a teeny, tiny dent in affordable housing. All due consideration should be given to longtime Denver residents of well established or historical neighborhoods. I trust that there is a considered balance that can be achieved. Sounds like that is what DCC is also aiming for; whatever they decide I’m good with.

    • Ken Schroeppel February 28, 2017 at 5:17 am

      By “all due consideration should be given to longtime Denver residents of well established or historical neighborhoods” do you mean that those residents should be allowed to park their private vehicles on public land for free but that newer residents to the city should not?

      • TakeFive February 28, 2017 at 5:25 pm

        Consideration – careful thought, typically over a period of time or thought, deliberation, reflection, contemplation…

        I was referring to a land use/development issue as opposed to an everyday convenience or need. Certainly the historical presence/usage of parking on neighborhood streets presumed it was for the convenience of those that live on the street. For those longer-time residents who are invested in their neighborhoods it’s a very logical usage. But a “personal right”? Not aware that has ever been codified, at least not in Denver. That’s an issue for future DCC’s to address as to whether they deem issuing parking permits is an appropriate answer or not.

        • Ken Admin February 28, 2017 at 7:57 pm

          My point is that many of the naysayers and NIMBYs on this issue do feel a sense of entitlement, whether legal or not, that they have more of a “right” to store their private vehicle on the public street in front of their house or on their block than those newcomers do.

          • TakeFive March 1, 2017 at 6:05 am

            Not sure I care for the term “entitlement” but perhaps with some people it may be appropriate, I dunno. Neither do I see “storage” as being the same thing as needing a place to park. I can easily empathize with those who’s biggest asset, their home, is a place where they’ve lived for 10/15/20 years. I also see an irony with developers on land with no (or minimal) parking requirements including tons of parking in their developments anyway. Yet those who live on a relatively quiet street deserve to have 100 micro-units with no parking dumped on them? Doesn’t seem like a very equitable solution to a problem that could be better solved by other means.

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