Opponents of Micro-Apartments on Humboldt Street Lose Zoning Appeal

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Suite 201 of the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building was bursting at the seams Tuesday, October 11, when the Board of Adjustments took up an appeal that argued the zoning department had erred when it permitted micro-apartments and a restaurant in the 1500 block of Humboldt Street.

The board ultimately rejected the appeal in a 4-1 vote. Had the board voted in favor of the project's opposition, permits would have been rescinded for the hotly contested proposed mixed-use developments at 1570 and 1578 Humboldt Street that will have 108 units between them as well as a restaurant, but no parking. 

As our Matthew Van Deventer wrote earlier this month:

In August, Denver City Council approved a seven-month moratorium on the city’s small-lot parking exemption. The exemption allowed development projects on lots smaller than 6,250 square feet in mixed-use zoning districts to forgo parking in their design. Enacted in 2006, the exemption applied exclusively to the East Colfax Avenue business corridor, to encourage redevelopment on “challenging small lots” in the area, says Andrea Burns, spokeswoman for the city’s Community Planning and Development Department.

The exemption extended to all mixed-use commercial districts when the city was rezoned six years ago.

Grandfathered into the council-approved moratorium are eleven development projects on small lots already in the works — including one near 16th and Humboldt streets that the neighborhood association is trying to appeal.

Representatives of the Humboldt Street Neighborhood Association, the group that brought the appeal to the board, said after the hearing that they'd regroup and assess whether to take any further action against the micro-apartments.

At the hearing, Tina Axelrad, zoning administrator for the City of Denver, defended the zoning department's decision to permit the plans.

"This is not about impacts of the development; it's not about liking or not liking the specific project or the intensity of the development," she said. "The only issue in the appeal is whether zoning administrators...applied the small-lot parking exemption...correctly or whether staff erred."

Opponents of the development project argued that the developers had found a loophole in the small-lot parking exemption so that two small lots next to each other could have high-density housing without parking.

"There is no mandate that you can find in the Denver zoning code that requires a single owner who owns what had historically been two zone lots to join them together into one larger development site," Axelrad argued. "Maybe we all wished that that might have been more desirable and maybe could have led to better results in the community, but that is not the law we have today."

During the moratorium, a working group of city officials, developers and citizens will meet regularly to discuss and find solutions to contested zoning-code issues.

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