Guest Commentary: Blueprint Denver gives communities more flexibility; it doesn’t abolish single-family zoning

Denver Department of Community Planning and Development

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In the May 13th edition of The Denver Post, Vincent Carroll’s op-ed piece asked the question: “Did Denver officials just lay the foundation to abolish single-family zoning throughout the city?” As the community co-chairs of the three-year Blueprint Denver rewrite, we would like to respond to the concern raised by Carroll, and to help Denverites better understand Blueprint Denver.

Simply put: No, Blueprint Denver did not just lay the foundation to abolish single-family zoning throughout the city.

As Carroll correctly pointed out, Blueprint Denver lays out strategies to increase housing options and choice in every neighborhood, and includes recommendations regarding the possibility of two-unit dwellings in low-scale residential neighborhoods, and recognizing the need for “missing middle” housing such as duplexes, fourplexes, and row homes in the city. But Carroll seems to suggest that these might happen anywhere with no further community input, based solely on how “aggressively” the recommendations are used.

In reality, Blueprint Denver is clear that neighborhood-led planning guidance is required before Blueprint’s general mapping of “residential low” can be used to support two-unit rezoning in those areas, as explicitly written in highlighted text in each context chapter. Carroll should know this, as he partially quoted from these sections, but chose to leave out the key guiding language from the same sections: “When a rezoning request is made to change the zoning to allow two-unit uses, the appropriateness of the request depends upon adopted small area plan guidance, neighborhood input, and existing zoning patterns.” Whether this was an oversight, or it was intentional to support the scaremongering and politicized assertions suggesting Blueprint Denver as the demise of single-family housing, it is disappointing and misleading.

In the Far Northeast Area Plan — the first of the “Neighborhood Planning Initiative” plans to come forward using the new Blueprint Denver framework — the community presents their 20-year vision for the Montbello and Gateway/Green Valley Ranch neighborhoods, including where and how additional housing options would be accommodated. Residents identified areas where single-unit housing with the possibility for accessory dwelling units would be appropriate; areas where low-scale, multi-unit homes (such as duplexes and rowhouses — part of the “missing middle” continuum of housing types) would be appropriate; and areas better suited for higher-intensity residential and mixed-use development. Over 80 specific and prioritized recommendations for the evolution of their neighborhoods were also included.

The emphasis on neighborhood plans is far greater in the new Blueprint Denver than in its predecessor, asking the community how their neighborhoods should become more complete in order to achieve vital equity, climate, and transportation goals. Several Denver neighborhoods are already benefiting from the guidance and common-sense approaches laid out in Blueprint Denver. The aforementioned Far Northeast Area Plan is nearly complete and plans are well underway for nine neighborhoods along East Colfax. Later this year, planning will start in 13 additional neighborhoods across northwest, southeast and west Denver.

We can — and we should — plan for a strong and authentic Denver that offers housing options for all people. Blueprint Denver lays this foundation and asks each resident to participate in shaping how your part of the city should evolve, much like residents in Montbello and Gateway/Green Valley Ranch just did.

Learn more about neighborhood plans and how to stay involved at www.DenverGov.org/neighborhoodplanning.

Kimball Crangle and Joel Noble are the community co-chairs of the Blueprint Denver task force.

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