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Archive of posts filed under the Zoning category.

Affordable Housing for People or Cars?

Everyone in Denver knows that we have a housing affordability crisis but what are we always discussing? Adding to our parking minimums and thereby increasing the cost of housing. Everyone in Denver knows we have a traffic problem but what do we find ourselves talking about? Adding parking to make it easier to bring more cars into congested neighborhoods. Everyone in Denver has acknowledged that we need to make the city more walkable, bikeable, and transit friendly and yet what do we ruminate about? Increasing parking minimums as if they will accomplish any of those things. Why is this?


We’ve thought a great deal about people who have cars and how to make their lives easier by adding more parking, but we’ve seemingly given little thought to making it easier for people who don’t want cars, who don’t need cars, or who can’t afford cars—a not insignificant portion of the city. If we want to make it easier for people to choose transportation other than cars and reduce the need for car ownership, we have to build compact, walkable neighborhoods. The small mixed-use lots which were the impetus for the formation of the recent “small lot parking exemption study” created by Councilmen Brooks & Kashmann support exactly that kind of development. Unfortunately the group was convened on the presumption that developments without parking are a problem when in fact they are the solution.

I used to live in the neighborhood of Clayton, which is northwest of Colorado and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It’s full of single family homes and has plentiful street parking. Now I live in Capitol Hill, which is full of apartment buildings and has just as much street parking but it’s always full. In Clayton I could always park in front of my house; but you know what? There were very few jobs. There were also no restaurants, coffee shops, clothing or hardware stores. In Capitol Hill I can walk to four grocery stores. In Clayton I had to drive three miles just to get to one. In Capitol Hill if I need to do so I can walk downtown or bike to Cherry Creek for every modern American need. But the parking is terrible.


Now guess which residence has a cheaper mortgage? Guess which place actually reduces my cost of living? Which neighborhood has a greater diversity of housing, incomes, and opportunities? I met some great people in Clayton but for a financially viable neighborhood full of convenience and opportunity, Capitol Hill wins out. The problem is there are so many people focused on making parking easy that they’ve forgotten what it is to make living easy. Or affordable. Denver doesn’t need parking minimums—it needs to get rid of parking minimums and allow the kind of development that produces neighborhoods where cars aren’t needed.

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.


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.

St. Anthony’s Redevelopment Stirs Zoning Controversy

By Chad Reischl

When St. Anthony’s Hospital moved out of the West Colfax neighborhood to a new facility in Lakewood, it left the community with an opportunity for a large redevelopment project. The property was purchased by EnviroFinance Group, a horizontal developer, which is currently in the process of demolishing the hospital and setting plans in place for individual parcels to be sold to vertical developers. The General Development Plan (GDP) planning process has been going on for nearly a year and a half and is scheduled to go before the Denver Planning Board for final review in mid-November. Recently, a small group of local citizens who has concerns over the size, scale and layout of the project, has latched on to a discrepancy in the interpretation of the city’s zoning code and is rallying together to fight the project on this ground.

The discrepancy centers on the interpretation of the Open Space requirement proposed in the City’s GDP process. Before getting into the issue, however, here’s Denver’s definition of a GDP for those who may not know what it entails.  A. A General Development Plan (GDP) establishes a framework for future land use and development and resulting public infrastructure. The GDP provides an opportunity to identify issues and the development’s relationship with significant public infrastructure improvements such as major multi-modal facilities and connections thereto, major utility facilities, and publicly accessible parks and open spaces. An approved GDP provides a master plan for coordinating development, infrastructure improvements, and regulatory decisions as development proceeds within the subject area. An approved GDP also constitutes a master plan that is a prerequisite to zoning within the Master Plan neighborhood

Under this clause in the city’s zoning code, there is a sub-clause regarding open space provision in the GDP. It reads:  A minimum of 10% of the total GDP area (including the Primary Area plus any Secondary Ar­eas) shall be included in the GDP as open space.

The statement above seems quite simple and straight forward, but as we shall see, the lack of any subsequent detail allows it to get quite cloudy very quickly. The problems are twofold: how do you define the GDP area and what concessions does the developer get for having to deed back land to the city in the form of streets.

The developer, in this case, wants to not only develop their parcel, but also improve the streetscape on the surrounding streets. Since the streets around the project contain a mixed bag of sidewalk infrastructure (some attached to the curb, some detached, some missing or in poor shape) and at least one street lacks parking on the development side, EFG wants to have control over their half of the street Right-of-Way (ROW) on the surrounding streets for these improvements. Additionally, they are proposing to create bulb-outs at the street corners for an improved pedestrian environment at the entrances to their development. In order to make these changes however, EFG needed to expand their GDP area to include these ROWs. Since this is not developable land and not land they purchased, EFG suggested that it should not be included in the “Total GDP area” that is used to define the amount of open space they need to provide.

The second issue is internal to the site. When the developer bought the St Anthony’s site, part of what they purchased was a super-block within Denver’s existing street grid (they also purchased one stand-alone block). The West Colfax Plan (created after the announcement that St. A’s was moving) insisted that the street grid be reintroduced to this super block. In other words, EFG needs to divide the super-block into six blocks and give a significant portion of their land back to the city as a re-created street grid. By my calculation, this eliminates approximately 15% of the property they purchased. The developer is arguing that the city’s open space requirement should not apply to land that they are giving back to the city in the form of the streets, tree lawns, sidewalks and sidewalk amenity zones that they are creating for the citizens of Denver.

Essentially, the developer is arguing that the total required open space on the property be limited to 10% of the “Net” GDP area (or in other words the land they can physically develop). Consequently, the GDP shows a fraction more than 10% of the “net” project area dedicated to open space. The city planners (at the moment) are in agreement that this is a reasonable application of the standard and the GDP is about to go to the planning board for final hearing on November 20, 2013.

A group of local citizens has recently decided to protest this application on the grounds that the city has an insufficient amount of open space and that the developer should not be allowed to create 10% “net” open space but rather be mandated to dedicate 10% of the total “gross” area to open space. They believe that we, as a city, do not have many chances to increase the amount of publicly accessible open space and that this is one of our best opportunities to get this needed land (essentially for free) from the developer. Therefore, we must do everything we can to ensure that they provide us with the maximum amount of open space dictated by the zoning code.

Another local group is siding with the developer, saying that we have plenty of open space in the neighborhood (the development is right across the street from one of Denver’s largest parks) and not enough quality “urban space” (i.e. walkable streets and plazas for gatherings, which are included in the plan). They feel that using the “net GDP area” to determine open space is being fair to the developer who has been asked to create a lot of streets and pedestrian amenities in the development. They also argue that creating too much open space within the development will not serve to create the kind of dense, pedestrian friendly, urban development they’d like to see in the neighborhood, and create additional spaces that could host the kind of criminal activities (i.e. prostitution and drugs) that currently happen within the neighborhood.

What do you think?


Chad Reischl is an aspiring urban planner with a background in architecture and landscape design.  He has a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning from UC-Denver with an emphasis in urban place making and economic development.  Chad is currently a resident of the West Colfax Neighborhood of Denver and is co-president of the West Colfax Association of Neighbors (WeCAN).  He is dedicated to creating sustainable, healthy, and well connected urban communities for future generations to enjoy.

Does Zoning Prevent Progressive Urbanism?

By Morgan Landers

Happy New Year All! I look forward to the New Year and hope you do to! Talk about New Year’s resolutions, here is one for city agencies across the country, starting with Denver.

Create integrated flexible codes and process to enhance urban environments!

You may think that I am just talking about zoning codes, but a successful urban environment is about the experience. Personally, I appreciate the little quirks and surprises that you can find in a city. One of which is the unique cuisine offered by various street vendors and the activity that they generate. Food Carts have become all the rage in many cities, including Denver, which is home to the recently formed Justice League of Street Food (can be found on Facebook). This tight band of gourmet travelers roam the streets of Denver and provide employees, residents, and visitors with the tastes of cupcake treats, BBQ, comfort foods, and much more! Sad to say, the great people of Denver won’t be getting their cupcake fix in the near future.

Now normally I am proud of the progressive efforts Denver makes toward creating a successful urban city. Let’s not forget the new form-based zoning code, Greenprint, and Blueprint Denver; B-Cycle; FasTracks; the Mayor’s Energy Office; and hundreds of other non-profits focused on sustainable urban living. Kudos to those efforts for sure!

However, I would like to focus away from the big picture items and lean in toward implementation. I am very pleased as I drive westbound on Highway 6 and see the new light rail tracks and get equally excited when I see tens of bike commuters on a cold winter day. But I am sad to say that they won’t be getting their sweet treat on their way in because the permitting process for food cart vendors is not only confusing to operators, but confusing to the city as well. One of the most well-known food cart vendors, the Cupcake Truck, has been forced to close their doors pending directions from the City and County of Denver.

This fantastic Denver asset thought they had complied with all permitting requirements from guidance by the City. However, months later with permit in hand, they were informed they were in violation and told to shut down operations.

I ask Denver, and cities across the country (as I am sure this is not the only city where this comes up) that Departments like Planning and Zoning, Health Department, and Business Licensing check and integrate the process by which these types of urban assets are permitted. If we are to keep the hustle and bustle of a successful urban environment growing in Denver, these processes need to be simple and easy to understand the first time around. I am hard pressed to believe that food cart vendors are the only urban component that has run into confusion when it comes to permitting and licensing!

Please see the Denver Cupcake Truck Blog for their posting on this issue:

I don’t know about you all, but working in the real estate industry, I need a good cupcake every once in a while! Cheers to the New Year and may it be off to a great start for everyone!


Morgan Landers has a Bachelor of Environmental Design from CU Boulder and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from CU Denver. She currently works as the staff planner for a brownfield redevelopment company in Denver. Her interests include infill development, community outreach/involvement, and environmental planning. As a member of the DenverUrbanism Team, she will discuss a variety of topics about living and working in urban environments.