By Michael Henry

Chair Margie Valdez convened the meeting of the INC Zoning and Planning Committee and introduced City Council President Albus Brooks and Jeff Hirt and Sarah Showalter from the Denver Community Planning and Development Department to discuss a potential language amendment to the Zoning Code to address parking exemptions for small lots (6250 square feet or less, typically 50’ by 125’ lots). Since 2010 in the current code (Section 10.4.5(A)), small lots in all Mixed Use Commercial Districts have no off-street parking requirement. After a great deal of controversy concerning proposed developments in Curtis Park and on Humboldt Street at East 16th Avenue, City Council passed a moratorium on such new developments (not counting 11 projects “in the pipeline”) and Councilman Brooks appointed a 15-person task force to consider possible changes. There are approximately 3300 such small parcels in the city that are potentially eligible for the exemption. The task force had 4 meetings in late 2016, with one more meeting planned for December, which be open to the public and will take public comment. The goal is to have the ordinance considered by the Planning Board in early February and by City Council in March 2017 as part of the yearly “bundle” of zoning language amendments. The presenters believe that there is a rough consensus on the following, although some of the task force members at the meeting disagreed. (The detailed language has not yet been prepared):

  • Existing buildings on small lots will have full exemption from parking.
  • Inside the ¼ mile boundaries of “high frequency transit corridors,” the first 3 floors will be exempt.
  • Outside the ¼ mile boundaries of “high frequency transit corridors,” the first 2 floors will be exempt.
  • Other floors (above and below) must provide parking.
  • Parking reductions already in the code for all properties may reduce remaining required parking by up to 100%.

Some committee members expressed the following (very diverse) concerns:

  • What if a street has only one-sided parking?
  • The high-frequency traffic corridors may be too wide.
  • The proposal seems to be driven to maximize developer’s profit.
  • Maybe all parking on small lots should be prohibited to make Denver more sustainable.
  • The proposal will increase the number of new affordable housing units.
  • Parking for service and delivery areas should be accommodated.
  • Great parking does not make great neighborhoods.
  • There was not enough time at the task force for discussion. Much of the time was taken by city presenters.
  • Data requested by some task force members was not presented, including how many parcels can be developed with a “full exemption” under this proposal and what is the impact of auto ownership in projects near transit?

A motion was made, seconded and passed by a vote of 32 in favor and 2 abstaining to postpone taking a position on this proposal until after the detailed language can be reviewed after the next task force meeting. Presumably, this will be at the next Zoning and Planning Committee meeting on January 28, 2017.

Bryan Fife, program administrator of the Denver Office of Marijuana Policy, updated the committee on recent marijuana issues. He and Margie Valdez are developing a Citizens’ Academy for approximately 30 citizens to educate attendees about the very complicated laws and regulations regarding marijuana establishments and the procedures for the new needs and desires hearings required of marijuana establishments. The dates have not been determined and RNOs will be notified when reservations can be made.

The Office of Marijuana Policy recently moved into the Department of Excise and Licenses, now headed by Ashley Kilroy after the resignation of Stacie Loucks. The office is currently drafting regulations to implement Initiative 300, which was passed by Denver voters on November 8, regarding permits for establishments which will allow consumption of marijuana. The Department probably will not issue permits until the summer, following the adoption of rules and regulations by the Department. The procedures for hearings will be as similar as possible to hearings for liquor establishments. There will be an advisory group developed for Initiative 300. Committee members encouraged that the health of employees of marijuana consumption facilities and health and safety effects on consumers should be carefully studied. Denver Health is doing some research on health effects and emergency room admissions due to marijuana.

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