Monday, October 12, 2009

New Zoning Code for Denver?

Denver is trying to adopt a new zoning code.  The bill appears on track to be voted on in city council early next year.  It would replace the existing zoning code entirely.  Some excerpts from the Denver Business Journal's recent article on the subject:

The Denver City Council took a big step toward establishing a new zoning code for the city at Monday night's council meeting by unanimously passing a schedule for implementing the code. . . .

Peter Park, manager of the city's Community Planning & Development department, pointed out at the council meeting that his department had public meetings last summer about the new code in all the city's council districts, and has met over the last several years with real estate professionals such as architects and developers. The department is overseeing the writing and implementation of the new code. . . .

The updated, context- and form-based code, which is still in draft form, is being designed to support economic growth, a sustainable environment, housing diversity and strong neighborhoods, according to the city. . . .

The proposed new zoning code would replace Denver's existing code. The current code was adopted in 1956, but since then has become a patchwork of incongruous zoning regulations and outdated, according to real estate experts and the city.

The draft of the proposed new zoning code is here:  I'm not sure exactly what all of the details are and how they differ from the exisiting code, other than the assertion that it is a form-based code, so please comment if you are more familiar with the Denver process.  It appears to have grown out of the 2002 Blueprint Denver comprehensive land use and transportation plan. 

It is a significant undertaking to adopt an entire new zoning code; one reason many zoning codes get outdated and can't respond to market or public demand for things like new urbanism is that it is much, much harder to rewrite the entire code (and to get it passed) than it is to simply adjust the laws incrementally and to make exception after exception.  But over time that means the code will become crowded with incongruities and will continue to enforce an outdated view of the city's preferences.   My first visit to Denver was at last spring's Law and Society meeting and I found it to be a delightfully walkable city (the downtown, at least, centered around the 16th Street pedestrian mall).  It will be interesting to see how the new zoning code works out.

- Matt Festa

Form-Based Codes, Planning, Zoning | Permalink

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