Safe and Sound Denver Leading Charge Against Group-Living Overhaul

Safe and Sound Denver posted a video in November warning of problems with the proposal.
Safe and Sound Denver posted a video in November warning of problems with the proposal. YouTube
In August 2020, Safe and Sound Denver, an organization founded by a handful of Denver residents who opposed a proposed overhaul to group-living aspects of the Denver Zoning Code, sent out its first email. The subject: "Group Living Equity Claims Ring Hollow."

In the weeks and months since, Safe and Sound Denver has sent out more than two dozen additional emails, attacking the group-living proposal crafted by Denver Community Planning and Development over the past three years and encouraging residents to urge Denver City Council to vote against the measure.

With the final vote set for February 8, Safe and Sound Denver members are now making a final push to stop the proposal, which would increase the number of unrelated adults who can live together in the same home from two to five, and also make it easier for residential-care facilities, such as halfway houses, homeless shelters and sober living homes, to set up throughout the city.

"[Voting no] would let Denver neighbors know that city council has heard the thousands of Denver neighbors’ voices who have helped build and invest in our city over the past decades, have over and over expressed the request for the city council to stop this amendment, and demanded a more transparent process, authentic community engagement and unbiased and factual communication by our paid and elected officials in the City and County of Denver," says Paige Burkeholder, a founding member of Safe and Sound Denver, which today has about seventy core supporters.

Safe and Sound Denver hasn't limited its campaign to emails and calls to reporters pointing out perceived problems with the proposal.

"This is your neighborhood. You decided to build your life here because you value the safety, security and tight sense of community that makes it home," a narrator says in a YouTube video created by Safe and Sound Denver in November. "What if all of that changed? What if, instead of a safe and secure place for your family, it was the site of halfway houses inhabited by convicted felons? Or homeless shelters and the transient populations that filled them? Shockingly, that possibility is very real."

Josiah Hesse, a writer (and former Westword contributor) who lives in a communal household, took issue with that message and wrote a comment underneath the video on YouTube: "I just disagree with the premise that people who need halfway houses and homeless shelters are inherently evil, and believe that with properly funded and executed programs these institutions can exist alongside families without the negative consequences that this video suggests are inevitable. We as a society need to be thinking of ourselves as part of a community that helps one another, not one that demonizes those born without privilege."

On January 24, Safe and Sound Denver published another YouTube video with ominous-sounding bells and a narrator asking the question, "Would you support a recall of your councilperson if this passes?"

Recently, Community Planning and Development has taken to refuting some of Safe and Sound Denver's claims. In a January 29 fact sheet, for example, CPD criticized Safe and Sound Denver's assertion that the proposal would "prohibit the ability of neighbors to object to homeless shelters."

Responded CPD: "This is misleading. There is no change to neighbors’ ability to object because there is no requirement today that shelters have neighbor support. Rather, this proposal would add a NEW requirement to ensure neighbors are notified when the city receives a permit application for any residential care facility that would serve 11 or more people and would require operators of these facilities to meet with neighbors before applying for permits. These requirements do not exist today."

In response to concerns expressed by Denver City Council reps and members of the public, city planners working on the group-living ordinance have made adjustments to the proposal over the past year, including lowering the number of unrelated adults who can live together in the same household. But Safe and Sound Denver hasn't gotten everything it wants. Far from it: "Minimal compromise on massive overreach is not acceptable," the group said in a February 3 email.

Hesse has kept an eye on Safe and Sound Denver's campaign. "It was a lot of the same kind of fear-based perspective that the opposition has had against this ordinance or just people outside the nuclear family in general," he says.

Over the past few days, the group has gone on an email blitz, sending out one missive that links Mayor Michael Hancock's hypocritical Thanksgiving travel to what it characterizes as the mayor's hypocrisy regarding the group-living proposal, and another, sent February 3, noting that Hancock had just tweeted in support of the proposal, even though "he lives in the exempt Chapter 59 Zoning Code." Wrote Safe and Sound Denver: "His residence will not be impacted by the Amendment."

That's not exactly right, however.  Hancock lives in Green Valley Ranch, which is one of the parts of the city still zoned under the old code, known as Chapter 59. In 2010, a major update of the Denver Zoning Code changed the zoning for more than three-quarters of the city, but areas that had been developed under special zoning permits, such as Green Valley Ranch, were not included.

But while Hancock's area of town may currently be exempt from the halfway house and homeless shelter provisions of the proposal, CPD is planning to initiate an ordinance in the coming months that would extend the household size provisions to former Chapter 59 areas. And it might go beyond that in the future.

"We are looking at, in the longer term, more aggressively rezoning the city to move away from all of those areas of former Chapter 59 and ultimately retire that former Chapter 59 code," explains Andrew Webb, the senior city planner behind the proposal. "We’ll be looking at CPD’s resources and considering how we might more proactively do this."

Safe and Sound Denver might have some ideas.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.