Growing Pains: ‘Zoning is the catalyst for the plan’

Knowing your neighborhood’s zoning code gives you a window to development

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Denver city councilmember Jolon Clark says the city is experiencing a multitude of use-by-right development. That means if a project fits within a property’s existing zoning code, developers can legally build there even if the neighborhood objects.

Although some developers will work with neighborhoods, others don’t. The projects also don’t come through city council for approval, said Clark, whose District 7 encompasses Baker, West Washington Park and Overland. They simply apply for building permits through the city.

Those kinds of projects are often a source of tension between developers and communities because of the lack of public comment, Clark said. “There is legally no way to stop what someone could do.”

But residents can get an idea of potential development by looking at zoning codes in their areas, said councilmember Wayne New, who represents District 10, which includes Capitol Hill, Uptown and Cherry Creek. Developers must follow the city’s zoning code, and if their projects don’t meet that code, they need city council’s approval for changes.

“What really creates action is the zoning,” New said. “That tells you what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen. The zoning is the catalyst for the plan.”

Paul Kashmann, whose District 6 represents Washington Park, University and Virginia Village on city council, agreed, saying residents can get ahead of the issue by knowing the zoning in their area.

“The potential for development is considerably more than what’s on the ground now,” he said.

Much of the current construction in Cherry Creek, for instance, was planned through zoning changes, New said.

The city assessed the area to see how much development it could handle, New said. Then Denver Planning and Development approved any zoning changes, which were then sent to city council for approval.

The city expected those projects would be built in a more staggered fashion, but development has instead occured more quickly, New said.

When those projects are completed, the square footage of residential and commercial buildings in Cherry Creek will nearly double, New said.

Zoning laws are meant to protect neighborhoods from high-rise buildings emerging in quiet blocks filled with single-family homes. But some residents worry that’s not enough.

Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, which acts as a liaison between Denver residents and city officials, opposed the city’s Denveright plans. In a February letter to Mayor Michael B. Hancock, the organization said the plans didn’t do enough to address housing, homelessness and other development-related issues. City council held a vote on the some of the plans on April 22. Both the Comprehensive Plan and Blueprint Denver were approved by city council votes. A council hearing for the park plan will happen next month.

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