As Denver’s housing market continues to thrive, so, too, do the development-related concerns of existing residents.  The rapid pace of development in many City-close neighborhoods has at times pitted residents desiring attractive, pedestrian-oriented communities against developers responding to high demand for urban housing options.  On Monday, August 22, 2016, the Denver City Council passed a pair of City-wide development moratoria aimed at addressing parking and architectural issues.  CB16-0498 concerns use of the City’s small zone lot parking exemption.  CB-16-0541 places a one-year moratorium on use of the Zoning Code’s Garden Court Building Form.  Both bills passed with a unanimous vote of Councilmembers present and took effect August 25, 2016. 

CB16-0498 places a seven-month moratorium on use of the City’s small zone lot parking exemption, found in Zoning Code Section  That Code Section exempts projects in Mixed Use Commercial Zone Districts on lots smaller than or equal to 6,250 square feet in area from providing on-site parking.  The purpose of the small zone lot parking exemption is to encourage infill development on small lots, adaptive reuse of existing buildings, and use of public transit.  With the increasing popularity of micro-units and other dense infill projects, neighborhoods have expressed concern that the small zone lot parking exemption will overburden their streets with new residents and visitors and crowd out existing residents.

Though only one development has used the small zone lot parking exemption since its introduction in the 2010 version of the Denver Zoning Code, at present, there are eleven pending projects that seek to utilize the exemption.  These projects will be allowed to continue through the development review process, but no new applications incorporating the small zone lot parking exemption will be approved during the term of the moratorium unless they concern (1) a residential development of ten or fewer dwelling units; (2) a non-residential development that does not exceed two stories or thirty-five feet in maximum building height; or (3) a mix of residential and non-residential development that does not exceed ten dwelling units or thirty-five feet in building height.

CB16-0498 will remain in effect through the earlier of March 31, 2017, or the effective date of a text amendment to Zoning Code Section  This is to allow the City’s Community Planning and Development Department to explore options for balancing the parking needs of existing neighborhoods with ways to increase the City’s housing stock and incentivize efficient utilization of small lots.

CB16-0541 places a one-year moratorium on use of the Garden Court Building Form, one of several building forms permitted under Denver’s form-based Zoning Code.  The City’s form-based approach to zoning prescribes details like building volume and how buildings orient to lots, streets, and alleyways, with an emphasis on configuration rather than structural or architectural detail.  The Garden Court building form is a multi-unit dwelling with individual unit entrances arranged around an attractive center garden or courtyard.  But, as described by Councilman Wayne New, co-sponsor of the bill with Councilman Raphael Espinoza, many recent developments utilizing the Garden Court Form instead resemble pedestrian-unfriendly, industrial prisons with “no garden, and no court.”

The Garden Court building form moratorium will remain in effect for one year while the City studies potential amendments to building form standards and the zone contexts in which the Garden Court Form should be allowed.  As initially introduced, the moratorium would have applied to all pending applications, but after outcry from the development community, the sponsor Councilmembers amended the bill to exempt all pending complete applications for site plan review.

Both moratoria were Council-initiated, in direct response to constituent concerns.  Now that the revised Denver Zoning Code has been in effect for six years, the City, its residents, and developers have all had a chance to see how provisions like the small zone lot parking exemption and form-based zoning play out on the ground.  We will likely see additional Code amendments as the City strives to direct attractive, efficient, and livable development in its many established neighborhoods.