Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Debate continues over Denver zoning revision process

Postcards are being mailed to every property owner in Denver to underscore the importance of what University of Denver officials and more than 130 neighbors are already on top of: The zoning rules are changing.

The changes affect nearly everything in Denver: college campuses, residential neighborhoods, commercial zones, airports, open space, hospitals. And they were enough to generate angry citizen outbursts Aug. 13 at what was another mass meeting to outline proposed changes and work to get them right.

In the end, city planners hope to hone a new zoning code the Denver City Council can adopt early next year. Homeowners hope to guard against changes that might diminish their housing choices or disrupt their neighborhoods. DU officials hope to protect the University’s property rights and preserve flexibility for the future.

A hefty mix of DU staffers and University consultants were among the legion of citizens who examined the second draft of the new code and told city planners what they need to fix.

“If this gets too happy, we can turn it into a town hall meeting on health care,” quipped the new zoning code’s architect, Peter Park, head of Denver Community Planning and Development.

It didn’t. The session grew boisterous with loud statements and pointed questions erupting from citizens that the new zoning could cost them money in lost property value and investment opportunity.

“I’m carrying debt,” one said loudly. “Why don’t you tell us how many properties you are downzoning?” challenged another.

Park responded with a quiet mantra of “let’s talk about it,” which he did. The group fired grievances at Park, squinted at maps with him, flung questions about loss of property rights and peppered the director with neighborhood nuances and opinions on why the new rules didn’t make sense. Park stood his ground, answering and explaining, listening and challenging, trying to lower the temperature.

Results were mixed: One citizen realized he was looking at the wrong map and apologized for getting hot. Another extracted Park’s promise that city staff would take another look at his neighborhood just south of DU. Others walked away satisfied, confused or deflated. Still others complained that Blueprint Denver, the vision for the city that the new code is seeking to implement, was out of date.

Sentiment for single-family-only housing in some neighborhoods was strenuous. Sentiment for greater homeowner choices, such as duplexes or Accessory Dwelling Units, also known as Granny Flats, was also strong. Some neighborhoods got far less attention, and two — Valverde and College View — appeared to get none.

“Zoning in Denver can sometimes be contentious,” Park had said early in the session. “The point of having a code is to take some of the heat out.”

Three hours later, there was less heat and more exhaustion as residents trickled away and city staffers geared up to look at the issues that had emerged. The point of the process, which is coming to a head after five years, is to replace Denver’s 53-year-old zoning code with new ways of looking at neighborhoods and a new “menu of choices.”

Mapping decisions, Park said, are based on existing structures, current zoning and plans such as Blueprint Denver plus feedback from neighborhood meetings, which this month and next are being held in nearly every city council district.

“It’s an absolute ton of work,” pointed out City Councilman Chris Nevitt, in whose District 7 the Aug. 13 meeting was held. More work — and more meetings — is in store with the goal of having the final document and map completed by the end of November.

For a full meeting schedule, to see the draft map and proposed text or to log comments, go to

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