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.

Blueprint 1.0 – Areas of Change

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:

  1. Regional centers, which will absorb 45% of new jobs and 25% of new households;
  2. Community centers and corridors, which will absorb 20% of new jobs and 25% of new households;
  3. 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;
  4. Greenfield residential areas, which will absorb 5% of new households;
  5. Certain districts, which will absorb 15% of new jobs and 5% of new households; and
  6. All other areas of city, which will absorb 10% of new jobs and 20% of new households.
Blueprint 2.0 – Growth Strategy

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.

Resolute’s proposed self-storage facility is shown in the graphic above. Source: Resolute Investments.

In May, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the City of Thornton’s approval of a specific use permit for a self-storage facility against a challenge brought by a competitor self-storage facility.  While the court’s decision in Stor-N-Lock Partners #15, L.L.C. v. City of Thornton was a victory for the defendants, including the city and the developer, the court ruled that defendants in Rule 106(a)(4) actions may not recover delay-induced damages through the imposition of a bond.  Otten Johnson attorneys Brian Connolly and Bill Kyriagis represented the defendant landowner and developer, CenturyLink and Resolute Investments, Inc., respectively, throughout the proceedings.

In the case, Resolute obtained the city’s approval of a specific use permit for its project.  A neighboring self-storage facility challenged the approval under Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 106(a)(4), which allows for judicial review of quasi-judicial decisions by local government bodies.  The plaintiff alleged that the approval of the specific use permit did not improve the welfare of its property, which was one of the Thornton code’s criteria for the issuance of a specific use permit.  The district court affirmed the city’s decision but denied the defendant’s motion to require the plaintiff to post security in an amount that would cover the defendant’s losses incurred as a result of litigation-related delays.  Continue Reading Colorado Court of Appeals: Court Should Defer to City Council’s Code Interpretations, But No Bond for Rule 106 Defendants

In the latest installment of an ongoing eminent domain controversy between the City of Glendale and the owner of Authentic Persian and Oriental Rugs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the landowner, holding that Glendale should have provided notice of its “blight” determination affecting the landowner’s property, even though such notice is not required under applicable state law. The feud made headlines a few years ago when the landowner, who owns six acres that have been carved out of the area contemplated for “Glendale 180” Riverwalk, accused the City of repeatedly denying redevelopment applications for its property, then creating its Downtown Development Authority to condemn the property after negotiations to purchase the property fell through. Continue Reading Court Requires Notice of Decision to Declare Property “Blighted” under State Law

The Knick property. Source: Pacific Legal Foundation.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari in the case of Knick v. Township of Scott.  In Knick, the Court is being asked to re-examine its 30-year-old doctrine requiring takings claimants to exhaust state court remedies before filing a claim for just compensation stemming from a regulatory taking in federal court.  The decision to grant the petition indicates that at least four justices agree that it’s time to consider eliminating procedural hurdles created by the Court’s 1985 decision in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank. Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court To Review New Takings Case—Will It Become Easier To File Takings Claims In Federal Courts?

For more than 15 years, Denver’s comprehensive plan, “Blueprint Denver,” has taken a binary view of neighborhood change—either a neighborhood should expect to change, or it shouldn’t—but it’s looking as though that practice might soon end.  The current system, under which every City lot lies within an “area of stability” or an “area of change,” now seems likely to disappear in favor of a four-tiered categorization developing as part of the “Denveright” long-range planning process.

A bit of background: under Blueprint Denver, the City aims to funnel development into “areas of change” that comprise roughly one fifth of Denver’s land area.  The plan’s complementary goal is in turn to limit growth in “areas of stability” that cover the balance.  Denver development pressure has to some extent followed that vision crafted in 2002, especially as new projects have advanced along Continue Reading Denver to Take More Nuanced Approach to Growth Planning