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In an 11-2 vote following a marathon meeting that began February 8th and ended this morning, Denver City Council approved a major revision of the group-living aspects of the Denver Zoning Code.
“In Denver, we deserve an advanced package – right now, during a pandemic, when people need more resources,” Councilor Amanda Sandoval said during the meeting before voting on the proposal. “I support this and the entire package with all my heart.”
The ordinance increases the number of unrelated adults who can live together in the same house from two to five and also makes it easier for service providers to set up care facilities such as intermediate houses, sober houses and homeless shelters. all over Denver.
The changes in relation to these facilities inspired the two no votes. “My concerns about home care will be too many to support,” councilor Amanda Sawyer said before voting against the proposal. Councilor Kevin Flynn also rejected the measure.
The council finally voted on the proposal after a meeting after 1 a.m. that contained statements from over 100 members of the public. Two thirds of respondents were in favor of the measure, while the others had concerns about various provisions.
One resident feared that more communal situations like the 24/7 “fraternity house” next to her house might appear: “There were four people in the lease with ten people living in it and fifteen cars, and they turned their garage into a strip- Club that opened after the bars closed. I heard this every night and nobody would help me. Nobody. ”
Another woman suggested that the changes to allow more group houses would lead to “white fighting” and asked, “How many pit bulls would they have?”
“The opposition is not political,” said another resident. “Opposition to this is voiced by citizens of all colors, ages and political inclinations.”
During the meeting, Councilor Kendra Black explained “the misinformation” that some opponents had spread in the run-up to the vote. “While it is clear that there is a very vocal opposition group from my district, they do not speak for my entire district,” she said.
Aside from public comments from people who signed up to speak, the Council received over 1,143 letters on the proposal: 619 for and 524 against.
The vote came after three years of work by the Department of Community Planning and Development to update the group living aspects of the Denver Zoning Code. Planners started the overhaul in late 2017: a ten-year moratorium on building new half-houses expired in mid-2018, and they wanted to find out how the code could be changed to make more space for half-houses.
“Since 2008, our intermediate houses and corrections in the church have been in a time capsule. I don’t think this is a progressive policy,” remarked Sandoval during the meeting.
After reviewing the zoning code, the planners saw other group living issues that needed to be addressed and decided to merge them into a single project that made a proposal. In 2018, CPD employees formed a Group Living Advisory Committee made up of sober house operators, advocates of communal houses, and operators of half houses and homeless shelters to lead the project. A council decision in August 2019 to refuse to renew halfway house contracts with two private prison companies increased the city’s interest in zoning.
In January 2020, the project’s lead designer, Andrew Webb, revealed the key aspects of a draft proposal. Although he later watered down certain provisions – for example, reduced the number of unrelated adults who could live in a single household from eight to five – opposition grew fiercer.
Last August, a handful of Denver residents formed Safe and Sound Denver, a group that sent dozens of Listserv emails and produced YouTube videos railing against the changes, arguing that they were causing a deterioration in public safety and too would lead to more parking on the street.
One of the main criticisms of Safe and Sound Denver was that the zoning change would only apply to parts of the city that are zoned under the current Denver Zoning Code, and the zoning to more than 20 percent of the city that is still under the earlier zoning after Chapter 59 falls, would not change code.
In response to this concern, CPD pledged to introduce an amendment in the near future that would increase the number of unrelated adults who could live in a single household in earlier Chapter 59 areas such as Green Valley Ranch and Central Park. However, this change would not address other aspects of the group zone revision.
“CPD will be spending some time this year looking at what resources will be needed to continue work on rezoning the city, which is our ultimate goal,” Webb said at the February 8th council meeting.
In the meantime, however, the majority of Denver will fall under these new group life zoning rules. “I am proud of this final proposal,” concluded Councilor Robin Kniech. “I’m proud of the two policy changes it makes.”
See the last change here:
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and enjoys talking about New York sports.