Northwest Denver’s Zoning Fight Continues

While the battle over the controversial down-zoning of two northwest Denver neighborhoods is over – City Council approved the rezoning in a marathon session Monday night – the debate about it wages on.

While the two areas, one in West Highland and one in Sloan’s Lake, that will now be down-zoned from R2 to R1 in January 2009 – meaning single-family houses can no longer be replaced by multi-unit dwellings -- are relatively small, the impact of this change may be felt citywide. For those who supported the down-zoning, this victory means they now have a municipal weapon they can use to combat what they see as detrimental and over-dense development in their neighborhoods. This was the first time citizens have initiated a down-zoning proposal such as this in Denver; now it’s highly unlikely it will be the last.

Others are happy about the down-zoning precedent for a different reason. Some Council members insinuated that the fact that Blueprint Denver, a guide to future development in the city, suggested these neighborhoods were areas of stability, helped convince them to vote for the down-zoning. In a time where many planning decisions seems wholly subjective and piecemeal, observers are encouraged that a comprehensive, forward-thinking plan like Blueprint Denver –one with no guaranteed authority – is influencing city decisions six years after it was passed, and may continue to do so regarding future development.

Many, however, see what happened in northwest Denver as a bad thing. A very bad thing. They saw the down-zoning proposal as nothing more than a bunch of NIMBYs pulling bureaucratic strings to freeze out housing designs they don’t like. To them, concerns about density are nothing but a smokescreen – and anyway, they counter, where is there a better place to encourage density than in diverse neighborhoods close to downtown like West Highland and Sloan’s Lake, places that will definitely see the benefit of improved housing stock, in terms of more classrooms being filled and better transportation infrastructure. Like those who celebrated the Council’s decision Monday night, they see what happened in these small neighborhoods now occurring again and again around the city – to the detriment of property rights and much-needed city enhancement.

“You don't think your area of town is next in having your property rights taken away? Dream on!” says Kathleen Genereux, who opposed the zoning change. “It’s time to say, ‘Hell no, we're not going to take it anymore.’” To that end, she’s hosting a “Cry in your beer” party at her house at 2001 Newton Street this Sunday, May 4, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Come one, come all, she says, to commiserate and brainstorm about the future – and encourages visitors to “Bring signs for the TV cameras.”

The fight goes on. – Joel Warner