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Archive of posts filed under the Land Use & Planning category.

The High Impact of Minimum Parking

Regarding the recent and ongoing kerfuffle taking place in Uptown surrounding a new development being built with no parking, much has been said regarding the “impact” to the neighborhood. I find this to be an interesting view in that it implies that an important function of a neighborhood, the function to which the “impact” would cause so much distress, is parking. Is that the kind of neighborhood people want? One in which the primary and ongoing concern of residents is the “impact” of parking? Who wants to live in a neighborhood whose primary value is car storage?

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It’s interesting that we Americans, we Denverites, have chosen to define ourselves and our places by our cars rather than by our abodes. In as much as we think about our neighborhoods, they are often defined by how conveniently they store our cars. New residential developments in Denver, from single-family houses all the way up to luxury apartment towers, are usually viewed as acceptable as long as they have a place to store our cars. Or perhaps more importantly, a place to store our neighbors’ cars so that we can have the parking spot in front of our house. The provisioning of our cars has come to matter more than the form of our neighborhoods or the needs of our city, but I feel that as our cars have grown in importance, so have our neighborhoods been diminished.

The new development in Uptown proposes to include a restaurant, one which would be conveniently walkable and which would provide a service to the neighborhood; an amenity; cachet. One might even say it will have an “impact”. So why is parking considered to be more impactful than people? I choose to say people because of who will benefit: not cars, but people—most likely neighborhood peoplePeople will work there, it will provide jobs. People will eat there, it will provide food. People will meet there, it will provide a space for the community. People will drink, talk, flirt, and converse there, it will provide memories. What it won’t provideparking—is incidental, even trivial. That folks in Uptown are willing to give up the opportunity to positively impact the people in their neighborhood baffles me. That they’re willing to deny the opportunity for people to live above and enjoy this amenity seems… ungenerous. All of this opposition is in the name of protecting what residents view as “their” on-street parking.

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Is this where our priorities truly have shifted? Are we correct in allowing this focus on parking to continue to define our neighborhoods, our opportunities, our lives and those of our neighbors? I say it’s better to build a place where we can walk to our daily needs rather than sit impatiently at the wheel waiting for the light to change. I say it’s better to build a community that welcomes new neighbors in an attitude of comity and friendliness rather than fear that they might steal “our” parking spots. I say it’s better to build our way to prosperity rather than sit behind a wall of zoning and claim that “the pie can never be any largerthis is as much as there is and there can never be more”. That’s the kind of “impact” I want.


Denveright Update: Blueprint Denver

As promised, this is the first post in our up-close examination of Denveright’s planning initiatives. We’re starting off with Blueprint Denver, probably the most well-known planning document that falls under the Denveright umbrella.

For a little context, Blueprint Denver is an integrated land use and transportation plan. It contains no ordinances or codes; it has no “teeth” to ensure compliance with its recommendations. It is a supplement to the City’s Comprehensive Plan, meant to be used as a guiding document to ensure thoughtful coordination between land use and transportation policy. The document outlines the City’s intent to link real estate development to transportation corridors and transit centers, channel job growth toward economically depressed neighborhoods, and stimulate residential activity in new and developing neighborhoods.

The principles underlying the first iteration of Blueprint Denver were developed during the late ’90s, when the City held workshops and visioning exercises for Metro Vision 2020 and the Denver Comprehensive Plan 2000. Though the influx of new citizens was not occurring at the rate we’re seeing today, Denver was in the midst of a population renaissance driven by a strong local economy. The existing zoning code at that time was a convoluted mess, having undergone countless amendments since its last formal overhaul in 1956. It did little to support transit-oriented or mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development. A comprehensive city-wide approach to change management was viewed as an essential component to the city’s long-term sustainability, and Blueprint Denver became the solution.

The most defining, and arguably most controversial, characteristic of Blueprint Denver was its categorization of small areas and neighborhoods as either Areas of Change or Areas of Stability. Areas of Change were defined as “areas that will benefit from, and thrive on, an infusion of population, economic activity and investment. Areas of Stability include the stable residential neighborhoods where no significant changes in land use are expected over the next twenty years. The goal is to maintain the character of these areas and accommodate some new development and redevelopment that maintains the vitality of the area.” Twenty-six Areas of Change were identified, depicted on the Blueprint Denver map below. Downtown, Lowry, Stapleton, Gateway, and areas around transit stations were highlighted as key Areas of Change.

areas-of-change

The theory was sound. A simple, binary system to target infill and real estate investment toward areas of the city that most need it, while the stable areas were left to maintain their steady state with the occasional incorporation of minor improvements. And from a city-wide economic and land use perspective, the strategy has been successful. A 2015 article published on Denver Real Estate Watch cites an analysis of residential and commercial building permits issued in 2014. Private investment in Areas of Change outpaced investment in Areas of Stability by a ratio of 5.2 to 1.  But when we experience this Change or Stability land use labeling system through a different lens, as many have in the past 15 years, some negative consequences come to light.

Since its adoption, Blueprint Denver’s Area of Stability label has frequently been used as a rationale to oppose development—NIMBYs can point to a map and argue that the City’s approval of a particular development goes against the plan outlined in Blueprint Denver—blocking what could be the organic evolution of a neighborhood. Even though it is merely an advisory document, Blueprint Denver has become a piece of evidence that proves proposed Development Plan X in an Area of Stability is a zoning violation, will harm the character of the neighborhood, increase traffic, lower property values, or carries any other of a number of negative consequences.

Conversely, the Area of Change label has been used to justify aggressive rates of development that can bring about gentrification, funneling luxury housing and amenities toward low-income areas, with harmful repercussions for the existing residents. The neighborhood has been categorized as an Area of Change, hence, any change in land use should be acceptable.

In hindsight, such applications of the Blueprint Denver labels seem obvious—even predictable. As in-migration has continued to rise, and the demand for housing has become increasingly frenzied, tensions have risen between so-called “pro-” and “anti-” development camps, and any evidence that can be brought forward to support one argument and refute another is considered fair game.

So, that brings us to today. Now that Blueprint Denver is back in the hands of task forces and advisory committees, how should they address the way the document has been interpreted? Is it simply a language issue, where some clarifications need to be made to the intended application of the labeling system? Or is the system itself flawed, and do we need to go back to the drawing board to redesign our framework for future development?

Share your voice at the Denveright survey portal.


Everything is Made Up

Life is the story we tell ourselves. This is why you can hear stories about people in the worst circumstances with the best attitudes and people who you would think should be pleased beyond their wildest dreams being miserable and on meds.

This of course means that the story of our city is also made up. It’s a collective agreement about what’s important to us, on how we got to where we are now, and on where we should go next. It’s hard sometimes when people don’t agree on how the story should go—arguments occur not only over the meaning of certain history but sometimes over the history itself. Sometimes we forget what happened. Sometimes we choose to forget. Sometimes we simply misinterpret.

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It made me think about our recent decision to put a moratorium on allowing small lots to be redeveloped without providing any parking spaces. The exception was originally intended to allow the rehabilitation of buildings on lots too small to make parking economical. Since the exception was put into place, the city has seen dramatic growth and some developers saw an opportunity to build dense housing on these small lots that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. The moratorium was enacted in order to review and fix the problem.

And that’s where the story begins. We’ve told ourselves that allowing housing without parking is a problem that needs to be fixed. We’ve told ourselves that Denver has always been a city where a car is required and will never be New York so we shouldn’t allow it. We’ve told ourselves that the exception was never intended to be used that way (which is true) and we’ve also told ourselves that the dramatic changes we’ve seen in our city don’t or shouldn’t change the story of our need for parking.

But like I said, these are all stories. We can tell ourselves that we need more parking or we can tell ourselves that we have way too much parking. We can tell ourselves that the city will never be dense enough to make living without a car possible or we can tell ourselves that making the city dense enough to make living without a car possible is imperative and start building as though it is. We can tell ourselves that it was never meant to be done this way or we can tell ourselves that creative developers have figured out how to solve some small part of our housing problem for us.

I’m telling myself to look for the opportunities instead of the threats. What are you telling yourself?


Stability or Sameness?

What do you seek from your city? If you were to move across the country and had your pick, what characteristics would you seek out for your new hometown? Good schools? A strong economy? Perhaps exciting nightlife, excellent parks, or good transit? What about constancy? How important is a place’s resistance to change?

I read yet another article today about the astonishing number of people who have and continue to move to Denver. Absent some calamity, it doesn’t seem as if this pattern is going to change any time soon. This brings to question the necessity of growth and our reaction to it as a city. Time and again I’ve read articles and comments suggesting that the growth occurring in Denver is shameful, annoying, bad, or even a conspiracy. People take affront to the change occurring next door.

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The euphemism I’ve heard used to resist the influx of new neighbors into old neighborhoods is “stability.” As in, “if we allow this new, larger building it will be destabilizing to the character of the neighborhood.” Or when a new mixed-use development goes up, “I bought this house thirty years ago. Don’t I have a right to a peaceful, stable neighborhood?” Or even, “without a stable neighborhood our schools will suffer”—a classic “won’t someone think of the children” refrain.

But stability allows for change, even growth. A child grows into a teenager who grows into an adult and remains a stable person. A building grows from a hole in the ground to a scaffolded construction site to a skyscraper and doesn’t fall over. And before our completely zoned and litigious modern times, a neighborhood grew as well—from a collection of homes to a retail corner to some small apartments to a commercial corridor and finally to a dense and vibrant district where all types of living, loving, commerce, salesmanship, and industry occur. Not all at once but piece by piece, every city in the history of mankind has grown in this way. Until today. Until now, with our complaints about traffic and our insistence on parking and our baked-into-the-code resistance to change.

But this resistance doesn’t fight against instability, it fights for sameness. It fights so that a person sees the same thing every day, forever. That home across the street will only ever be a home across the street and never anything different—unless someone tears it down and builds another home just like it. Literally, it’s in the code.

But this isn’t the character of a living city. These are not the actions of a growing metropolis embracing its destiny and welcoming the inevitable change and vital growth that makes a city great. It isn’t a guarantor of stability, it’s an imposition of sameness, a codification of bland, a legal requirement for stagnation. A place which fights the arrival of change is doomed to heartache because, good or bad, change is coming. We as a city need to make the distinction between stability and sameness. We need to allow new growth and new ideas, and welcome new neighbors rather than fight change and appear to be the unwelcoming and selfish people we claim we are not.

Can we accept this change? Can we look to the future and be grateful for our opportunities rather than resentful of our need to adjust? I hope we can.


Denveright on DenverUrbanism

Happy Labor Day!

This is an exciting time in our great city. On May 19, Mayor Hancock officially launched Denveright, the most comprehensive and holistic planning effort that Denver has even undertaken.

“Great cities don’t happen by accident. Many great planning efforts, undertaken with our diverse communities, have helped us create the Denver we’re all proud to call home,” Mayor Hancock said in a press release. “There is so much about life in Denver that we all love and value, and Denveright is an historic opportunity for everyone in our city to have a voice on the needs and priorities that will shape Denver’s future.”

Four simultaneous initiatives are currently being stewarded by various agencies in a community-driven coordinated planning process, illustrated by the City of Denver’s Denverright infographic, below:

Denveright_Infographic

Community task forces for each area of focus were formed in June. Each individual was appointed by city leadership to contribute a unique voice to a diverse group comprised of neighborhood representatives; members of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC); one member from each of the Mayor’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committees; two city council members; representatives from the business community, aging populations, youth and those with disabilities; and members with interest in sustainability, preservation, and civic and community health.

Using input from citizen “think tanks”, workshops, public meetings, and surveys that will take place over the next 18 months, these task forces will inform the contents of four upcoming citywide plans that will guide Denver’s growth for the next 20 years.

  • An update of Blueprint Denver, the 2002 citywide land-use and transportation plan.
  • An update of the Game Plan, the 2003 citywide parks and recreation master plan.
  • Denver Moves: Transit, a new mobility plan for transit in Denver.
  • Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails, a new mobility plan for sidewalks, crossings and trails.

Denveright is a monolithic planning effort that, if carried off successfully, will shape how and where the current and future citizens of Denver will live, move, work, and play throughout the city. It deserves a spotlight here on DenverUrbanism.

In the coming weeks and months, I will delve deeper into the Denveright planning campaign, starting with a closer look at each of the four tentpole initiatives. Blueprint Denver will be first on the list.  In the meantime, you can check out this four-minute Denveright press video from the city’s planning department, and peruse the Denveright website to learn more.


Please Support Affordable and Attainable Housing for Denver – Council Bill 15-0811

Anybody following the Denver housing market has noticed a very large decline in new for-sale and condo development. In fact, only one Central Denver condo project, containing 80 units, has been completed in recent years. That means only 0.6% of all residential units being built in and around Downtown Denver were condos. With the simple rules of supply and demand, the for-sale supply is at an all time low with demand rising causing record high average home prices.

So what is Council Bill 15-0811 and how is it going to fix the supply flow of condos in Denver?

From the Downtown Denver Partnership:

The Downtown Denver Partnership has long advocated for policy changes to address the effects that construction defects legislation has had on the Downtown Denver housing market. We are proud to have worked with the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance and the City and County of Denver on proposed Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 to help address these issues through local ordinance changes.
Championed by Mayor Hancock and his policy and legal teams, the proposed ordinance would do the following:
  • Limit the manner in which technical building violations can be used in construction defects litigation;
  • Support covenants that require alternative dispute resolution of construction defects claims; and
  • Institute a majority vote process with all association homeowners before legal action can go forward.
Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 offers a balanced approach that will create a fair legal resolution for construction issues. Importantly, the City’s approach will not take away a homeowner’s or community’s rights to seek a resolution to a construction issue.
The Downtown Denver, Inc. Board of Directors passed a resolution in support of City Council Bill 15-0811 to further emphasize the importance of having a variety of housing options and price points available in the center city and surrounding neighborhoods.

From the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance:

The Colorado General Assembly last session failed to address the defect in state law that exposes homeowners and builders to a high risk of expensive, time-consuming litigation—despite broad bipartisan and coalition support.

This defect means that Denver’s housing market has not kept pace with the demand for affordable and attainable homes among first-time homebuyers and others with a modest income. Rising housing costs and soaring rents threaten to price many Denver residents out of the market. Yet, condos, which have always provided a pathway to homeownership, now represent just 3.4 percent of new homes in the Denver metro housing market.

Now it’s up to the City and County of Denver to address this issue at the local level—like Aurora, Lakewood and seven other communities. Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 offers a balanced approach that will create a fair legal resolution for construction issues. Importantly, the city’s approach will not take away a homeowner’s or community’s rights to seek a resolution to a construction issue.

Here is how you can show your support and help get this bill passed:

  • Send a letter to your City Council member. Head on over to the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance to help you get started.
  • Attend the Denver City Council courtesy public hearing Monday, November 16th at 5:30pm at the City and County Building in the City Council Chambers, 1437 Bannock Street Room 451.

Balanced for-sale and rental development is critical for any successful housing market and Denver’s great future. We hope to see you Monday!


Please Contribute to Scholarship Fund for CU Denver Planning Students

In honor of Giving Tuesday, please take this opportunity to support the Adrienne Balsover Sustainability Scholarship Fund to establish an endowed scholarship program for incoming graduate students studying sustainable planning in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado Denver. The fund will be used to recruit the best and brightest students of diverse backgrounds to the planning profession to study sustainable planning at CU Denver. As many of you know, I teach full-time in the MURP program and your contribution to this scholarship fund will help us continue to bring top-notch students to Denver to study urban planning and to improve the Denver region through their passion and enthusiasm for building strong sustainable communities.

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Last year, a $10,000 gift from the Golden Rule Foundation established the fund, and through the end of 2014 the Foundation has offered to match gifts for the scholarship to help meet a goal of $25,000 to endow the scholarship so that it can benefit MURP students in perpetuity. With the fund balance now around $15,000, we need to raise only $5,000 between now and December 31 to meet this goal!

Click the link below to make an important contribution to the future of Colorado’s only graduate planning program!

http://www.cufund.org/giving-opportunities/fund-description/?id=16142


Denver Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee Seeking Applicants

By Jill Locantore, WalkDenver Policy and Program Director

Would you like to help guide the development of the Denver Moves Pedestrian Plan?

2015 will be an important year for walkability in Denver. In addition to making major investments in multimodal infrastructure along key corridors such as Brighton Boulevard, the City will be developing a new Denver Moves Pedestrians Plan that will establish walkability goals and set implementation priorities for years to come. You have the opportunity to participate in these activities by applying to become a member of the new Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

If you’d like to become a member of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee and help make Denver more walkable, complete this application and return it to Anthony Aragon at anthony.aragon@denvergov.org by close of business, Friday, December 19, 2014.

Below is more information from the City and County of Denver about the opportunity. We hope you will apply!

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Purpose: The Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MPAC) advises the Mayor on all matters regarding the pedestrian experience as it relates to transportation and recreation.

Following are the critical issues the committee will be advising and helping to inform the Mayor over the next two years:

  • Review of the existing 2004 Pedestrian Master Plan
  • Denver Moves Pedestrian Plan
  • Prioritization of identified pedestrian projects
  • Development of street guidelines

The Pedestrian Advisory Committee is specifically looking for individuals with the following backgrounds and experience:

  • Geographic Representation – a citizen from each Council District
  • Older Adult Representation
  • Person with Disabilities Representation
  • Youth Representation – Grade 9 through 12
  • Transit Organization
  • Business Community
  • Healthy Lifestyle – Wellness & Prevention
  • Pedestrian Interest Group(s)
  • Parents/Teachers Association
  • Higher Education Institution

Length of term:  Two-year terms which may be renewed up to a maximum of three times pending reappointment by the Mayor.

Meetings and time commitment:  Expect four to five hours per month.

  • MPAC meets monthly for approximately 90 minutes
  • MPAC sub-committees meet approximately 10 times per year for approximately 90 minutes
  • MPAC members may be asked to attend other community meetings, site visits and related meetings

How to apply:  Interested applicants should complete this application and return to Anthony Aragon at anthony.aragon@denvergov.org by close of business, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014.  


FasTracks Progress: Union Station Transit Complex Opens!

It’s been a long, long time coming, but the $500 million Denver Union Station Transit Center is COMPLETE and will open for transit operations tomorrow! This is undoubtedly a game changer for downtown Denver and represents the realization of nearly three decades of planning efforts, if not more. Ryan D. covered the grand opening ceremonies in two posts (parts one and two) yesterday on DenverInfill.

The Denver Union Station Transit Center (any ideas for a nickname?) consists of three major transit components: light rail (open in 2011), bus (open now), and commuter rail (coming in 2016). Let’s take a look at each of those components and how they fit into one of the most expensive infrastructure investments since Denver International Airport.

RTD has produced (and agreed to share) this great image that gives a general overview as to how the three components fit together and where the different modes provide service to.

UnionStation-Map - Copy

The locations and facilities labeled in orange on the image above are now complete and will be open for the general public on Sunday, May 11, 2014. The Chestnut, Wewatta, and Union Station Pavilions provide the three main entrances to the underground bus station, complete with stairs, escalators, and elevators. The Platform 2 and Platform 4 Pavilions provide access from the Commuter Rail platform with stair and elevator access to the underground bus concourse (no escalators).

The light rail facility was relocated in 2011 and served as the first major component completed at Union Station as part of this massive project. This new station replaced the previous light rail platform which was located just south of Wewatta Street (right about where the Wewatta Pavilion is today). The 16th Street MallRide was also extended 2-3 blocks to serve the new light rail station at the same time.

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The underground bus station (which again….nickname?) is a sight to behold. A behemoth at 140 feet wide and 980 feet long, this 22-bay bus station has more than twice the capacity of Market Street’s 10 bays. The pedestrian concourse isn’t anything to sneeze at, coming in at 44 feet wide and 780 feet long. Every bus that services Market Street Station today will service Union Station, in addition to the free MetroRide. Buses from Greyhound as well as other private bus companies are a possibility in the future (no definitive plans as of yet). CDOT announced this week that its new inter-regional bus system—which will connect Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, and Glenwood Springs (and points in between) with downtown Denver—will serve the underground bus station. This new service starts sometime next year!

DenverUrbanism and DenverInfill have tackled the bus station through several previous posts, so I won’t bombard you with pictures here, but let’s take a look at some before-and-after pictures of the bus facility. Better yet, head on down and take a look for yourself. Honestly, I was wary when I heard about the yellow tile (can anyone say outdated and tacky?) but I think it turned out great. Combined with the seven skylights, it really helps brighten the facility up and makes it seem even larger (if that was possible).

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The final and the most visible and stunning piece of transit infrastructure at Union Station has to be the commuter rail platform. Denver is known for lots of things (300 sunny days each year, active lifestyles, marijuana, etc.) but stunning and modern architecture tends to not make most people’s lists. This canopy will serve as an iconic welcome to those who arrive in downtown Denver by transit, whether it be the coming commuter rail lines, bus, or light rail.

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2013_11_18_DUSCanopy18 2013_11_18_DUSCanopy10

Union Station is big. It’s expensive. It’s important. It serves as the hub of the $6+ billion, decade-long infrastructure investment that is FasTracks. It will serve as the heart of transit throughout metro Denver. It will change how tens of thousands of people access downtown Denver on a daily basis. Get down there and take a look. Wander around. We all paid for it, and after decades of planning and years of construction, we can finally cash in on this investment.