True, projects previously approved under the old rules mean a number of new slot home projects will pop up over the next year or so in the city. Overall, though, the move represents good news for slot-home haters, who have long decried such buildings as having all the charm of 1950s prison complexes.
But while Brad Buchanan, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development, celebrates the move as "a bold change," he acknowledges that the rules won't be able to prevent every fugly project dreamed up by developers.
"The zoning code doesn't guarantee beautiful buildings," he acknowledges. "It's a foundational document that sets a platform for maco-building forms and significant building elements like pedestrian entries, front doors, where vehicular access happens on a site." However, he adds, "we share the frustration and concern around design quality citywide and are pushing hard on defining ways to both incent and enforce higher design quality."
The code changes apply to districts where such buildings have popped up. They require that units face the street, mandate elements such as porches in many cases, reduce buildings' allowable height, limit rooftop decks and offer new adjustments for setbacks, courtyards and driveways — all recommendations approved by a slot homes task force prior to the matter reaching the council.
"Over the last number of years, we've seen lots of interpretations in the marketplace in regard to this building form," he notes. "The front doors of these slot homes tended to either face the side property lines, or they were facing inward into a small courtyard space. But in either case, putting them on a block where all the other homes are facing the street, with porches and front doors, made them into pretty dull and interruptive pieces of architecture in what was otherwise a connected neighborhood."
The just-approved forms are intended "to insure that we have walkable neighborhoods and a more positive pedestrian experience," Buchanan continues — and he credits members of the public for making the issue stick. In his words, "I think we've seen more momentum than ever before around requiring better design quality in the architecture in every context in Denver, from single family neighborhoods to multi-family neighborhoods to downtown. And that's a fantastic thing."
This kind of buy-in gives Buchanan hope that other code changes could be made down the line — and while he doesn't offer any specifics, he is under no illusions that further tweaks would be easy to accomplish.
To counter such reluctance, residents who care what their neighborhoods look like need to speak out — and Buchanan encourages them to do so.
"These kinds of changes won't happen without community support, and I'm thrilled that we're seeing such clear opinions being communicated by the community," he says. "I believe the development community is hearing it — and the development community will follow what the market is demanding."
He adds, "I think the process worked really well in this case. It takes longer than folks would like it to take, and I understand that frustration. But we got further this go-round than we ever have in the past."
For the most part, changes in the code go into effect immediately. Visit Community Planning and Development's slot-home page to get more details.