If you have ever attend a city planning meeting, one of the most often heard phrases is “preserve neighborhood character.” Residents say that the existing character of the neighborhood is ideal and that all new development should conform to the neighborhood’s current building forms and aesthetic. This sentiment has been codified into a set of local laws called the Denver Zoning Code. The code effectively dictates what sorts of buildings are allowed in a given neighborhood. Residential zone districts generally relate to height, setbacks from the streets, lot sizes, and number of units allowed. The vast majority of residential areas in the city are zoned to only allow one detached house on any given lot.
If zoning exists, for among other reasons, to preserve neighborhood character, why are there so many examples of buildings standing today that are in violation of the zone district of which they are a part? Take Washington Park West as an example. Aside from some small commercial districts on Lincoln and a few blocks of multifamily housing, this neighborhood is zoned almost entirely for single-family homes. It is true that single-family homes dominate the neighborhood, but they are not, in fact, the only building type present. The neighborhood is permeated with dozens of duplexes and many of them are over one hundred years old. A similar situation exists in neighborhoods like Alamo Placita, Country Club, Whittier, Cole, West Highland, and Congress Park.
Following are images showing non-conforming duplexes in Alamo Placita, Country Club, and West Washington Park (two per neighborhood, from left to right):