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Denver Adopts New Zoning Code

On June 21st, Denver City Council adopted a new zoning code. The new code effectively rezoned all of the property located in Denver, with a few notable exceptions, including the Downtown, LoDo, Stapleton and Cherry Creek neighborhoods. Although the new code was billed as a simplification of the old zoning code, it actually more than doubled the number of zone districts and may create new difficulties for development by failing to recognize how commercial and residential development occurs today.

More traditional zoning codes, like Denver's old code, strongly regulate uses by separating incompatible uses into separate zone districts. While the new code still separates incompatible uses to some extent, it favors a mixture of uses more than the old code, and it controls development by more strongly emphasizing the physical characteristics of buildings and the manner in which those buildings function with those already present in the area. The new code is both a contextual and form-based code. The code is organized by certain neighborhood contexts, which reflect both the nature of existing development in defined neighborhoods and the desired characteristics of such neighborhoods, such as street, alley and block patterns, and building placement and height. The form-based portion of the code uses a strict menu of building forms, setbacks and parking locations to define the manner of development, much like a set of architectural design guidelines.

In parallel with its consideration of the new code, the City created a Division of Development Services. This new division, headed by engineer Dan Roberts, is intended to streamline the development approval process by having City staff more aggressively coordinate and advocate proposed developments before the other City agencies. This new division is organized outside of the Community Planning Department.

When the new code was first proposed, it contained many physical restrictions that would have prohibited construction of commercial structures most commonly seen in today's market, such as big box retail with parking between the street and the building and small drive-through restaurants. Otten Johnson's attorneys were instrumental in working with the City on behalf of landowners, developers and lenders to ensure that the new code permits market-driven structures and does not prohibit either the expansion or reconstruction of existing structures that are not compliant with the new code. Otten Johnson's land use attorneys continue to advise our clients with respect to developing properties within the confines of the new code.

Otten Johnson's Land Use practice group has substantial experience with the provisions of the new Denver zoning code. For more information on this Client Alert or on addressing issues arising from the new zoning code, please contact any of the attorneys in the Land Use practice group (for a listing, click here.)

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