On July 8, 2019, Denver’s City Council approved sweeping changes to the approval process and standards for large development projects.  The Amendment to the Denver Zoning Code replaces the General Development Plan (GDP) process and standards with new Large Development Review (LDR) and Infrastructure Master Plan (IMP) processes and standards.

An approved LDR will now be required for projects in excess of 5 acres, prior to proceeding with an IMP, site development plan, rezoning, subdivision, or other project approvals.  Existing GDPs may also be impacted, as discussed below.  Developers evaluating larger sites and landowners within existing GDPs in Denver should be aware of the new LDR and IMP processes and familiarize themselves with the Code Amendment.

The GDP process was adopted in the late 1990s as a hybrid planning and site-design tool to address large underdeveloped sites like the former Stapleton Airport site and greenfield sites near Denver International Airport.  An approved GDP has been required for projects in excess of 10 acres and includes land uses, density, design, conceptual infrastructure needs, and open space requirements, among other things.  The GDP review and approval process included a Planning Board hearing and recommendation, with final approval by the City’s Parks, Public Works, and Community Planning and Development Departments.

Over the years, several issues with the GDP review and approval process have been identified, including (1) poor inter-agency coordination during the GDP review process; (2) the significant cost and time from initial application to final approval; (3) community confusion over opportunities for input and involvement; (4) the nature of the GDP process as a developer-led process that required extensive (and expensive) analysis early in the review process, but offered developers few assurances from the City; and (5) challenges with the “hybrid” nature of the GDP process as both a land use planning tool and a site planning and rezoning process.

The Code Amendment seeks to address these issues by replacing the GDP process codified in Denver Zoning Code Section 12.4.12 with the LDR and IMP processes.  Specific changes include:

  • The LDR process will be required for all projects that meet certain requirements, including project area (greater than 5 acres or 3 blocks), or the need for a more coordinated planning framework
  • The LDR process will result in a Large Development Framework (LDF) that is approved by the City’s Development Review Committee
  • The LDF will determine whether there is adequate Comprehensive Plan 2040 and Blueprint Denver guidance in place for a project, and if so, what additional regulatory steps must be taken for the development, such as an IMP, rezoning, subdivision, design standards, land dedications, affordable housing plans, and open space plans
  • A more comprehensive inter-agency referral process to review issues such as affordable housing plans and projects that impact City-owned land
  • Clearer and more robust community meeting and engagement requirements
  • A lower minimum size threshold to comply with the Code’s 10% minimum open space requirement (from 10 acres with the GDP process to 5 acres with the LDR process) and improvements to the design and public accessibility of required open space
  • Codification of the IMP process (a set of development plans that guides future site-specific development in a specific plan area)

Notably, the LDR and IMP processes will remain administrative approval processes, with final approvals granted by the City’s Development Review Committee.

Existing GDPs will remain largely unaffected, with allowance for minor deviations from the approved GDP before the GDP must be replaced through the LDR and IMP processes.  The Code Amendment also establishes an “expedited repeal” process for existing GDPs that are at least 20 years old, in which all infrastructure has been constructed, and which are no longer providing community benefits not conferred through other regulatory approvals.

The effective date of the Code Amendment is July 12, 2019.  Active, pending Site Development Plans and concept plans cleared from the concept review phase between October 1, 2018, and May 1, 2019, and for which a formal Site Development Plan has been, or will be submitted prior to October 1, 2019, are exempt from the new requirements.