Real Estate Development

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.

Credit: Valentin Brajon

Later this summer, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) will institute more stringent, recalibrated Energy Star certification metrics in an attempt to reflect current market conditions. As a result of this recalibration, Energy Star scores are expected to drop an average of 10 points for office buildings and 16 points for retail buildings.

If maintaining your current Energy Star score is a priority, the EPA recommends that you apply for your building’s 2018 Energy Star certification no later than July 26, 2018. To accommodate as many applications as possible before the more stringent metrics kick in, the EPA will not enforce its typical 11-month waiting period between applications during this application cycle.  As a result, all buildings that earned a 2017 Energy Star certification will be eligible to earn a 2018 Energy Star certification before the deadline this summer.  Applications submitted after July 26, 2018 may be evaluated with the updated metrics, especially if extensive follow-up is required, and applications submitted after August 26, 2018 will definitely be evaluated with the recalibrated metrics.

For more information about Energy Star and this summer’s updates, please visit https://www.energystar.gov.

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

We’ll start in Boulder and with commercial development. In February, the Boulder City Council directed city staff to draft an ordinance that would raise the city’s affordable housing linkage fee on new commercial development from $12 per square foot to $25, $30, or $35 per square foot.  Boulder’s current $12 linkage fee is the highest such fee of any city in the country between the two coasts, with Palo Alto the highest in the country at $35.  Even so, City Council members expressed that the current fee is still low enough vis-a-vis fees on residential development to incentivize commercial development over residential development. And more commercial development without new housing only exacerbates the city’s acute jobs-housing disequilibrium.  Continue Reading Boulder County Municipalities Look to Double Affordable Housing Linkage Fees

Welcome to the first installation of City Prism.  Law is what we do and a part of who we are, but our lives are fully immersed in the people, places and perspectives that create Denver’s identity.  Deeply entwined with our legal practice is our love of place.  This is our opportunity to share our personal insights.

The Golden Triangle neighborhood has officially welcomed a long-anticipated resident–the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art.  With a sleek $22 million building that seamlessly integrates a century-old studio (the relocation process being its own story), the newly reopened museum now has the capacity to exhibit about 6,000 art objects (still only 1/5 of the entire collection).  The gallery rooms are similar to visiting the home of an eccentric and extremely rich aunt, with paintings hanging over the furniture from the same time period.  It would be downright impossible to focus on every single object.  Better to focus on the objects that capture your imagination–whether it is the intricate china sets, funky lamps, or highly impractical chairs–and ruminate on what you would pick out for your own living room. Continue Reading City Prism: Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art Reopens in Golden Triangle