On Thursday, the Denver Election Division released the final unofficial vote totals for the 2017 municipal election, and it appears that Initiative 300 will pass with 54% of the vote.  We discussed the Green Roof Initiative in a post on October 24, but now that the measure has passed, we need to take another look at how its requirements will affect real estate development in Denver moving forward:

  • The Ordinance only applies to buildings of 25,000 square feet or more of Gross Floor Area, a term defined in the Denver Zoning Code.
  • “Industrial buildings” have a lesser coverage requirement than other buildings.
  • “Residential buildings” less than four stories are exempt.
  • The ordinance only applies to “building permit application[s]” and “site plan[s]” submitted on or after January 1, 2018. Because neither of these terms is defined in the Zoning Code, we expect the Community Planning and Development Department to provide some guidance as to which applications and site plans qualify.  When the City passed the Affordable Housing Fee in 2016, the City did not impose the fee for projects that had Concept Plans officially logged with the City by December 29.
  • The ordinance applies to all “roof replacements” for buildings with 25,000 square feet or more of Gross Floor Area. The ordinance does not define “roof replacement,” so again we will be looking to Community Planning and Development for guidance on this provision.

We will closely follow the implementation of this ordinance and provide updated information as it becomes available.

Last week, Denver voters received their ballots for the November 7 municipal election.  In addition to considering a $937 million bond issuance and a Denver Public Schools Board election that has garnered national attention, Denver voters will decide whether to mandate the construction of “green roofs” on large buildings throughout the city.  The proposed ordinance would apply to all new construction and every “roof replacement” on buildings of 25,000 square feet or more beginning in January 2018.

As the name implies, a green roof is a space containing plants and soil on top of a human-made structure.  Proponents cite evidence that green roofs reduce energy consumption, more efficiently manage storm water runoff, ameliorate the urban heat island effect—one recent study found that Denver’s is the third worst in the United States—and improve air quality. Modern green roof technology was developed in Germany in the 1970s, and many U.S. cities have launched green roof incentive programs, including Chicago (2006), Washington D.C. (2006), New York City (2008), and Portland, Oregon (2008). Last October, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate the inclusion of green roofs in certain new construction projects.

The Denver initiative is modeled on a similar ordinance enacted in Toronto in 2009. If voters approve the ordinance, buildings with 25,000 square feet of gross floor area would need a green roof to cover 20% of available roof space. For buildings larger than 200,000 square feet, it would need cover at least 60%. In between, the ordinance provides a sliding scale. Green roof space may be occupied by solar panels, and the ordinance allows for cash-in-lieu fees of $25 per square foot for structures receiving a variance or exemption. The Community Planning and Development Department would evaluate applications for compliance with construction standards contained in the ordinance and issue permits.

Opposition to this initiative is gaining traction. The Editorial Board of the Denver Post took a position against the initiative back in March, and Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Denver Partnership, and several trade and professional associations have followed suit.  Their primary concern is cost, which studies have estimated at $10 to $25 per square foot for initial construction, and around $1 per square foot for annual maintenance. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the proposed ordinance is its application to every “roof replacement,” which goes beyond the mandate of both the San Francisco and Toronto ordinances.  In a statement issued last week, Mayor Hancock said that the initiative, “goes too far, too fast and provides no flexibility or opportunity for carrots instead of sticks.”

Turnout in these off-year local elections has historically been low—between about 20% and 40% in Denver—which means that as few as 60,000 votes could decide the fate of this initiative.

Rows of tiny houses await final construction details from volunteers.
Rows of tiny houses await finishing touches from volunteers, which include future residents.

About two weeks into construction, the “Beloved Community Village” is taking shape on an otherwise vacant lot near 38th and Brighton. According to the group organizing volunteers for the build, the project for people experiencing homelessness currently has more volunteers than work, but encourages those who want to help to drop by with snacks, a donation, or just to say hi. As covered in an earlier blog post, the community will include eleven individual shelters, as well as shared kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Many of the residents selected for the Beloved Community Village have had issues getting into Denver’s shelters—there are a few couples who want to live together, a transgender person, a person in a wheelchair, and Sandra Herman, who has pets. Credit: Westword
Many of the residents selected for the Beloved Community Village have had issues getting into Denver’s shelters—there are a few couples who want to live together, a transgender person, a person in a wheelchair, and Sandra Herman, who has pets. Credit: Westword

Earlier this week, Denver approved a temporary zoning permit for a tiny-house community for homeless people, the “Beloved Community Village.” The community will include eleven 8-foot by 12-foot shelters, as well as shared kitchen and bathroom facilities, constructed for about $130,000 on Urban Land Conservancy-owned property at 38th and Walnut Streets in the RiNo neighborhood. Continue Reading Local Governments Making Room for Tiny Homes

The Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute held the 2014 installment of its annual conference at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law March 12-14. The 2014 conference, which saw a record number of registrations, was titled “Moving Beyond Recession: What’s Next?” and focused on the need to balance population and economic growth in the Mountain West with the environmental limitations of our region. In keeping with the conference’s theme, many conference participants followed the “Conservation in Metropolitan Regions” track of sessions, which focused on providing open space and environmental resources in the major population centers of the West. Attendees—who came from throughout the Rocky Mountain region and the United States—included urban planners; federal, state and local government officials; real estate developers; professors of planning, law and other disciplines; current students; and public- and private-sector land use and real estate lawyers. The Thursday morning keynote address was delivered by former Secretary of the Interior and former U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, who focused his remarks on the importance of sustainable growth and public outdoor recreational resources in the West.

Otten Johnson was a Summit sponsor of the conference, and many Otten Johnson lawyers featured prominently in the conference program. Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Chairman and Otten Johnson shareholder Tom Ragonetti moderated the first-ever, daylong “Dynamics of the Land Use Case” seminar, an intensive training program on the fundamentals of the land use and real estate development process. As part of that seminar, Jim Johnson discussed how to assemble the right consulting team, and Tom Macdonald, Bill Kyriagis, and Brian Connolly spoke about various approaches for addressing an adverse land use decision. In the regular conference program, Tom Ragonetti facilitated a lunchtime discussion with a number of Denver-area residential developers discussing innovative approaches to homebuilding, Tom Macdonald shared his thoughts on the practical impacts of the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, and Brian Connolly spoke on the topic of local government obligations under federal fair housing law and moderated a panel event on best practices for improving communication between the public and private sectors in the real estate development process.