Should the City Delay the Denveright Master Plan Until After the May Election?

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During a high-production event at the Denver Performing Arts Complex’s Seawell Ballroom in May 2016, Mayor Michael Hancock and other city-department leaders announced the Denveright campaign, an ambitious effort to collect community input for the city's “Comprehensive Plan 2040," which will guide the Mile High City’s growth and development during the next two decades.

But before the city reveals a nearly final draft on February 27, some stakeholders argue, it should take more time on the plan — or at least wait until after the May 2019 elections to finalize it, to give any new elected officials time to catch up.

On February 9, Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation Registered Neighborhood Organization (better known as Denver INC), passed a resolution urging the city to pump the brakes on its Comprehensive Plan 2040, which covers everything from areas of the city designated (or not) for growth and development (that part of the plan is known as Blueprint Denver), to how the city should build out roads, parks and transit options in the coming years.

“The sheer volume of the Denveright plan documents has been daunting for most neighborhood organizations and interested citizens to respond to thoroughly and intelligently by City-set deadlines,” Denver INC declared in a news bulletin released after the passage of the resolution, which was supported by 80 percent of members. “The documents total more than 1,000 pages, with over 100 goals, nearly 300 policies and recommendations, and more than 450 strategies addressing development through 2040 as Denver’s population increases.”

The Comprehensive Plan 2040 is scheduled to be heard and voted on by Denver City Council in mid-April, just before the municipal elections. In its resolution, Denver INC declares, “The incoming Mayor and City Council members cannot be held accountable for the Denveright plans passed immediately prior to their election.”

"This is something that will guide us for twenty years. And it's happening way too fast,” says Drew Dutcher, an architect, president of the Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association, and delegate-at-large for Denver INC. “Something of such impact — and long impact — ought to be carefully considered.”

Dutcher claims that drafts of the Comprehensive Plan 2040 only include “cherry-picked” feedback from community meetings with residents instead of some other, common suggestions, like requiring stricter design rules for new buildings.

As for development, Dutcher maintains that the current plan is “too vague.”

"I will say that the Denveright documents are aspirational and have very lofty goals which are unimpeachable: sustainability, health, all the things we love about Denver,” he says. “But it speaks in rather vague terms about development. And there’s a danger in the vagueness. The ambiguity, I'm afraid, can allow developers to write their own ticket, and we’ve seen the pace of development over the past few years. I think many citizens in Denver are bothered by that."

Dutcher and other members of Denver INC suspect that newly elected officials may hold different attitudes toward development, and so the prudent path for the city is to wait until after May to see if any newcomers, who will be responsible for implementing the Comprehensive Plan 2040, want to weigh in on the documents.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Community Planning and Development, which is behind the Denveright campaign and has overseen the Comprehensive Plan 2040, says it's "looking at the resolution now and.... taking it under consideration.”

Unless the plan is delayed, Dutcher says, “the process just doesn’t smell right.”

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