Group Living Zoning Code Updates making its way to legislative review process

Proposals expected to be in front of planning board, city council this fall

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With expected increased evictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Denver believes it is important to allow flexibility for all types of housing and households.

“There is a very high cost of living” in Denver, said Andrew Webb, a city planner and the project manager for the Group Living Zoning Code Update. “It is important that the code is not preventing all types of housing where appropriate.”

Denver’s Group Living Zoning Code Update is currently making its way to the city’s legislative review process. If it passes, the updates would allow more unrelated people to reside as a household unit under one roof.

It is expected to go to Denver’s Planning Board late August, and city council in October. There will be public hearings at both meetings.

The code update, commonly known as Group Living, will determine “who can live where, and what types of residential” housing are allowed, Webb said.

It is meant to bring existing rules up-to-date and define the “city’s overall strategy to provide more and better housing opportunities for all residents,” states the project’s website.

The current zoning code was adopted in 2010, with some of the language having been transferred from the previous code that dates back to the 1950s. An update will clarify and eliminate the outdated and/or confusing language, and will address the city’s changing housing needs. Examples of the latter include new types of housing such as tiny homes; expansions such as those for ADA; and some unique housing needs such as nursing homes, homeless shelters and community corrections.

One of the biggest issues in the current code is the definition of a household, Webb said. Currently, only two unrelated people are allowed to live together in Denver — a rule that city staff and Denver residents, in general, feel is outdated.

The latest proposal is to allow five unrelated persons and any number of their relatives to live together in any dwelling unit. Structures larger than 1,600 square feet will be allowed to have one additional unrelated person per 200 square feet up to a maximum of 10 unrelated persons in a 2,600 square foot or larger home.

Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods addressed Denver City Council with a letter dated June 29 that supports the proposed updates to the Group Living Zoning Code.

“We believe that the proposed Group Living Zoning Code Amendments are a much-needed update to our code and will assist in creating more safe, accessible, diverse places for people to live within CHUN’s geographic boundaries and our beloved city,” states the letter. “Moreover, we support the categorization of residential care and group living homes by size rather than the type of facility or services being provided, to advance people’s ability to live in places accessible to transit, jobs and other community-based services.”

Denver resident Christine O’Connor, who co-chairs Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation’s Zoning & Planning Committee, feels that not all Denver residents have been able to fully educate themselves on it — perhaps because of distractions brought on by the pandemic.

She said the process has been going on for two years, but a lot of people didn’t know about it, despite that the proposed changes would affect all Denver residents and every neighborhood in Denver.

“I believe most residents who have learned of this work understand the importance of the issues identified by the (city’s) Group Living Advisory Committee,” O’Connor said. “They want to see these solutions evaluated and discussed by residents of all council districts since the amendments apply citywide.”

The Denver INC Zoning & Planning Committee on July 25 discussed the proposed changes to the Group Living Zoning Code and drafted a resolution to advance to the Aug. 15 INC delegate meeting for a vote. The resolution suggests that Denver City Council provide additional time — while still being mindful of how the pandemic is affecting residents — “for further consideration of the proposal in order to allow council members to make sure that their constituents are educated on the proposal and its implementation/effect.”

It also suggests that the various issues of the updates be “unbundled to allow full consideration of each material aspect of the proposal and, when outreach and compromise is achieved to the satisfaction of council members, such portion should be adopted separately.”

Washington-Virginia Vale resident E.J. Lorimer believes it is important to note that comments about the proposed changes are separate from current needs connected to COVID, she said.

“While current needs are critical without question, the ordinances will be permanent changes post-COVID,” Lorimer said. “Those who intertwine the issues are not considering future impact once COVID is resolved.”

She is also concerned about the “so many unknowns” and “unanswered questions” that may come up should the proposed changes be adopted.

“There are layers of complexity. We need to make sure this works correctly,” Lorimer said. “I’m worried because Denver is changing. I want those changes to reflect the beautiful city that it can be.”

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