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Controversial zoning change to allow 5 unrelated adults in a Denver household up for final vote Monday

Sponsor's intention: Take judgement out of zoning
Posted at 2:02 AM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 08:53:38-05

DENVER — A controversial proposal to increase the number of unrelated people allowed to live in a Denver household is up for a final vote Monday night.

Those in favor say it's a way to keep up with Denver's out-of-control housing costs, and to keep up with changing times.

Opponents say it will mean many more cars, and no buffers between schools and shelters.

View: The limitation is antiquated

Denver City Council President Pro Tem Jamie Torres calls the existing rules antiquated. She said they were designed to keep certain people out.

"You can't really argue your way around that," she said. "There's absolutely a sense of exclusion when it comes to how our zoning rules have come to be."

Torres said it really becomes a problem when you have a community or group of people who are "chosen" family — those bound by friendship or relationship, and not blood.

Denver has many families like that.

"I've been living, I guess, illegally for 17 years in this neighborhood, and for 13 years in this house," said Mac Liman, who shares a co-op duplex with eight other people.

She said they live together as roommates to share expenses and care for each other.

"I live with a chronic illness," she said. "For me, it's really important to have people around who will help me watch what's going on with my illness."

Sam Hinshaw has a similar living experience. She owns a room in the Queen City Cooperative.

"Currently, the rules say in this giant seven-bedroom house there should only be two unrelated people," she said. "We live here very happily with eight adults and a baby. .. It's a cooperative in that we own it all together. We have a limited equity structure, so basically we all have little tiny mortgages on our rooms. Part of my rent goes to the mortgage on the big house, but part of it goes to my own little share. When I leave, I get to take that equity with me."

Current rules in Denver

Denver's current zoning allows just two unrelated adults in one detached home, and four unrelated adults in duplexes, apartments or condos.

If the proposed change is approved, five unrelated adults would be allowed in a household.

Torres said the proposal is an effort to help make sure residents in her district can stay in their homes.

"In the Westwood neighborhood alone, we have lost 3,000 residents just in the last several years because of affordability. These are families with kids in elementary school and (middle) school. These are community members that have helped build our neighborhoods and they can't afford to stay," she said.

The councilwoman said part of the impetus is affordability, but the other part is trying to course-correct a zoning code that needs to be updated.

"There are going to be new rules," she said.

Among the key changes:

  • Allowing more unrelated adults to choose to live together as a housekeeping unit.
  • Consolidating residential care uses into a single system regulated by number of guests, rather than by population served.
  • Permitting residential care uses in more zone districts to allow establishment of new shelters, community corrections facilities and similar uses to reduce exclusion of populations and ensure facilities can be established near transit and services.
  • Allowing collocation of multiple housing models to provide a spectrum of housing from supportive to independent living at the same location.
  • Adding a new congregate living use category that allows for the evolution of group living that does not require care.
  • Updating requirements for minimum off-street parking for various residential uses.
  • Establishing minimum spacing between larger residential care facilities and limitations on the density of those facilities in a given area.
  • Creating limitations on the density of the smallest residential care facilities in neighborhoods.
  • Requiring community information meetings prior to submitting a formal application for larger residential care uses to notify and educate neighbors and foster positive relationships.

View: Concerns about increase in residents

There has been some major pushback. Several neighborhoods oppose the changes, as does a group called Safe and Sound Denver.

That organization launched a petition drive months ago to fight the changes.

The petition lists several major concerns, some of which have been addressed by city planners. They include:

  • Allow density in all single-family homes to increase a minimum of 150% -- from 2 to 5 unrelated adults plus unlimited minor children -- in any size home, during a time of COVID-19 crowding concerns resulting in increased trash, noise, parking, and infrastructure problems.
  • Allow new 1-10 person 24/7 homeless shelters in all neighborhoods, with expansion to 100 guests for 130 days, and no buffer from schools.
  • Allow up to 3 homeless shelters within a 1-mile radius in single family residential neighborhoods.
  • Allow unlimited cars per household.
  • Remove buffer zones between schools and community corrections facilities.
  • Prohibit ability of neighbors to object to homeless shelters; notification only

One resident said she signed the petition because, "Denver’s city government is attempting to apply a Band-Aid fix to housing problems for the homeless and individuals needing to comply with community Department of Corrections measures. Denver already has an initiative in place to help the homeless, an initiative that has received millions of dollars over the last several years, but has no strategic plan for disseminating the funds."

Another person signed the petition saying: "This issue will not appreciably lower housing costs in most Denver neighborhoods. It will mostly benefit developers who will be able to shoehorn more units onto expensive lots and sell them at prices that may be less than single family units but will still be unaffordable to most buyers. Builders and developers will win with this ordinance."

There's no doubt — it's a "hot button" issue that will likely lead to a very long city council meeting. That meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. It will be held virtually because of the pandemic and you can find a link to the meeting on the Denver City Council's webpage here.