Denver released a public draft of a new Blueprint Denver on August 6. This marks the first wholesale revision to the citywide land use and transportation plan since the city adopted the first Blueprint Denver in 2002. The new Blueprint contains a serious (and for some, a welcome) departure from the first version of the plan, which has shaped the development of the city through tremendous growth over the last sixteen years.
A bit of background and context. Cities adopt long‑term plans that are supposed to guide subsequent decisions about land use policy and individual development applications. For example, a plan may say that the community values its open space. When the city receives an application to develop open space, the decision makers, be they the planning department, zoning commission, or city council, are supposed to consider the plan’s statement about open space in evaluating the development application.
Denver’s planning hierarchy is a bit more complex. It starts with an overall comprehensive plan, but it includes a separate transportation plan, a parks plan, specialized initiatives, and dozens of neighborhood‑level plans. Rezonings and site development plans in the city usually implicate a handful of these plans.
Blueprint Denver has held a unique place in the city’s planning process because of its breadth and simplicity. The “core concept” of the first version of the plan—Blueprint 1.0—classified all property in the city as either an “Area of Change,” where development was “desirable,” or an “Area of Stability,” where the “prevailing character should be preserved . . . .” Blueprint 1.0 classified approximately 82% of the city, primarily residential areas, as Areas of Stability, and the other 18% as Areas of Change.
By its own terms, Blueprint 1.0 succeeded in directing development toward Areas of Change. The plan identified 26 Areas of Change, including Union Station, Brighton Boulevard, RiNo, Lowry, and Stapleton, all of which have experienced extensive development and redevelopment since 2002. Denver enacted a new zoning code in 2010, in part to create the regulatory framework to implement Blueprint 1.0’s growth strategy. One study in 2015 found that, since 2002, five times as much private investment has flowed to Areas of Change compared to Areas of Stability.
Critics of Blueprint 1.0 don’t dispute that the plan succeeded in its primary purpose to transform Areas of Change. However, they point out that the plan stifled redevelopment in a large swath of the city during a period of immense population growth. The Area‑of‑Stability label meant that a property was presumptively inappropriate for transformative redevelopment. In essence, the city wanted to house and employ 150,000 new residents on only 18% of land in the city.
Blueprint 2.0 abandons the Areas of Change‑Areas of Stability dichotomy. In its place, Blueprint 2.0 contains a growth strategy based on six classifications. These classifications acknowledge the inevitably of growth in all areas of the city, but they contemplate a spectrum of appropriate growth:
- Regional centers, which will absorb 45% of new jobs and 25% of new households;
- Community centers and corridors, which will absorb 20% of new jobs and 25% of new households;
- High and medium‑high intensity residential areas in downtown and urban center contexts, which will absorb 10% of new jobs and 20% of new households;
- Greenfield residential areas, which will absorb 5% of new households;
- Certain districts, which will absorb 15% of new jobs and 5% of new households; and
- All other areas of city, which will absorb 10% of new jobs and 20% of new households.
Blueprint 2.0 contains 143 pages of policies and specific strategies to implement this growth strategy. These recommendations run the gamut from neighborhood design to affordable housing, mobility improvements, historic preservation, as well as a new emphasis on “social equity factors” to consider in future decision‑making.
The city is accepting public comments through an online survey until October 31. The Denver City Council expects to vote on Blueprint 2.0 early next year. If you’d like to discuss the potential implications of this plan on your property, our attorneys have extensive experience in land use planning and real estate development in Denver.