Denver planners ready new zoning plan for public debut

Denver is updating its 50-year-old zoning code to further stem suburban sprawl, like this scene in Colorado Springs. (Photo/Ryan Ludwig, Flickr)
Denver is updating its 50-year-old zoning code to further stem suburban sprawl, like this scene in Colorado Springs. (Photo/Ryan Ludwig, Flickr)

The Denver Community Planning and Development Department will begin to introduce its proposed zoning code to officials and area residents this month, a process that will continue through the fall and that will include public meetings and presentations in neighborhoods throughout the city.

The new code, called “Blueprint Denver,” aims to reinvent the city in a way that increases density and efficiency while fostering the kind of collaborative activity that will nurture the region’s economy for the future, according to drafters.

“The present code doesn’t support our vision,” Peter Park, planning department manager and public face of the new code, said in an interview. “We’re refocused on the city center in an effort to reinvigorate it.”

Blueprint Denver would replace the patchwork of city ordinances stitched together over the years since the last major revision was completed in the mid-1950s. Then, planning principles encouraged lower-density building and a suburban lifestyle.

“The emerging suburban sensibility simply didn’t value the city,” Park said. “The idea then, of course, was to move out of the city.”

Passing the new code would be a first step to implementing a vision expressed in the Comprehensive Plan of 2000, which was drawn up by planning experts, public officials and city residents and encouraged increased urban population density. The new code would divide the city into “areas of stability” and “areas of change,” with planners aiming to maintain the character of residential neighborhoods while reworking mixed-use areas to attract more residents, businesses and investment.

“We’re talking about integrated land use as opposed to the old model, where you had separate use, where you lived in one place and worked in another and shopped in another. That’s a model that may have worked for a while, but it also had dramatic [negative] effects.”

Encouraging a ‘spiky’ Denver
Park, who is also an associate professor in the University of Colorado’s College of Architecture and Planning and the head of its urban design program, is part of a growing class of planners and analysts who see a more developed urban geography as fundamental to future prosperity.

And he agrees with analysts who view the Denver-Boulder area as one of the country’s post-industrial “spiky” regions — a metro area where there’s a critical mass of educated and creative people who help drive urban growth.

Between 1990 and 2000, the population of Denver increased by roughly 90,000 residents, or 19 percent. By 2020, the city’s population is projected to increase by one and a half times that amount.

But the current city zoning regulations can’t support that kind of growth, Park said, except haphazardly.

“I was shocked when I first saw the code Denver was operating under. It was one of the most complicated codes I had ever seen, all negotiated on a transactional basis. That [approach] erodes what zoning does. There’s no overall vision or plan.

“But now we have a plan,” Park said, adding that Blueprint Denver is remarkable in its ambition and scope. And moving from the vision for Denver’s 2000 plan to introducing a new citywide zoning code is something the city should be proud of, he said.

Selling the plan
Park said that in introducing Denver’s new city code, his department is following the lead of successful rollouts in other cities.

“We’re being deliberate. You have to be incremental. You address questions and edit the document based on responses. You have to do outreach, assemble people who know what they’re talking about — developers, architects, brokers, residents … because the fact is everyone has a stake in it.”

“If by August City Council members aren’t invested in the plan,” said Park, “it won’t pass.”

The Community Planning and Development department is launching an interactive map of the new city code and relevant links in the coming days.


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