Neighborhoods want bigger say in zoning

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Highlights:

  • INC adopts a platform on neighborhoods role on development.
  • Higher density development would not be allowed in neighborhoods if it worsens traffic and parking.
  • City departments wants to work with INC on its far-reaching proposal for neighborhoods.
An INC platform would have given neighbors more of an input into developments such as this one planned in West Highland, which is allows under citywide zoning adopted in June 2010.

Some neighborhoods  opposed this planned luxury apartment community in West Highland, even though zoning allows it.

Registered Neighborhood Organizations would play a much bigger role in developments in Denver, under a platform recently adopted by a group that represents 100 of the 211 RNOs in the city.

“The quality of planning and zoning decision-making is improved when residential neighbors have early and meaningful involvement,” according to the platform adopted with little fanfare earlier this month by the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, a non-profit  group created in 1975.

While documents stands on its own as INC’s platform, the organization proposed that the city follows the principles outlined in the eight-page, 2,769 word document.

“We share INC’s overarching goals of transparency, partnership and meaningful public involvement,” according to the Denver Planning Community and Development Department.

“We’ve reached out to INC to ask for the final zoning/planning platform document,” according to a statement from the DPCD.

“We look forward to reviewing it and exploring ways to address the issues raised in the document through process innovations, clarifications and collaboration — all toward our shared goal of building community.”

The platform calls for the mayor and other city officials to appoint representatives of RNOS to all city board, commissions, advisory committee, collaborative working groups and task forces considering planning and zoning issues, to give RNOs more “representation at the table.”

Taking aim at high density

The document also says that higher density zoning should not be approved unless it can be shown that it will not have an adverse impact on traffic or parking, unless they can be mitigate.

“Traffic and parking impacts can cause serious harm to the quality of life and economic vitality in neighborhoods,” according to the platform.

It also said that the impact of high-density projects, even in areas of change, must also consider the impact to nearby neighborhoods.

Larry Ambrose, president of INC, said that it is impossible to come up a citywide definition of high-density.

“In some areas of the city, a 10-story building may be perfectly appropriate,” Ambrose said. “In other areas of a city, a 3-story building may be totally inappropriate.”

Increasingly, neighborhood groups have opposed developments, even though the zoning allows them.

One recent example was a plan for a 5-story, 336-unit luxury apartment community by Trammell Crow Residential at West 38th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard in West Highland.

In those cases, it is important for the developers and neighbors to have an open dialogue, said Margie Valdez, who chairs INC’s Zoning and Planning Committee with lawyer Gregory Kerwin.

In some cases, it may be possible for both sides to reach a compromise, Valdez said.

Growth needed

“We know Denver needs to grow,” Valdez said.

“It isn’t any good for the developer and it isn’t any good for the neighbors to go into these matters crosswise with each other,” she said.

Kerwin, for his part, said he can’t point to any projects that would be halted or changed if the city adopted the platform.

“I tend to view it more as a process-oriented platform, Kerwin said. “This is geared much more toward ways of the city to be certain it is getting neighborhood input.”

Separately, Kerwin has filed a lawsuit against the city regarding a portion of the Buckley Annex at Lowry.

The platform would require much earlier notice to neighborhood groups, while with the Buckley Annex, there was only 15 days notice, which was not nearly enough time to consider the impact of proposed zoning changes, he said. The Lowry Redevelopment Authority, however, contends dozens of neighborhood meetings have been held on the Buckley Annex and the vast majority of people are pleased that the original plans for up to 12-story buildings have been scrapped. Kerwin disputes that, saying he thinks most people fear he added traffic the current plan would bring to an already congested area.

Courtesy zoning is rude

Another part of the platform calls for abolishing what is known as “courtesy zoning.”

Ambrose said for at least 40 years, there has been an unwritten tradition among City Council members to approve zoning supported by the council member where the zoning change is taking place.

While that council member’s position should be considered, “it should only be done so in light of the merits of the facts and testimony under consideration,” according to the platform.

Other highlights of the platform include:

  • Access to communications by RNOs;
  • More opportunities for citizens to speak on planning and zoning proposals;
  • More open and transparent meetings on zoning issues, with no discussions taking place “behind closed doors;”
  • Better access to records for citizens;
  • A balance  between new developments and the revenue they will generate, with the recognition that “predictability of zoning needs to be maintained for all property owners and residents, not just for developer;
  • And adequate  funding for the Community Planning and Development Department and the Landmark Preservation Commission.

Ambrose said the urban fabric of Denver would be improved if the city embraced INC’s platform.

“I think it would have stopped some development and make it more tasteful – make it more human scale and more responsible to human needs,” Ambrose said.

“A lot what is going on now is so cold and not really aesthetically pleasing.”

 Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com. InsideRealEstateNews.com is sponsored by Universal Lending, Land Title Guarantee Co. and 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.

 

 

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John Rebchook

John Rebchook has more than 30 years of experience in writing and communications. As the Real Estate Editor for the Rocky Mountain News, he wrote about residential and commercial real estate for 26 years. He has won numerous awards for business stories and columns that he wrote, both as an individual and part of teams. In addition to real estate, he also covered economic development, banking and financing, the airlines, and cable TV for the Rocky. In addition, he was one of the original freelance writers for GlobeSt.com, covering commercial real estate for the Internet publication.

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