With development moratorium, do NW Denver NIMBYs have Councilman Garcia over a barrel?

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Denver City Councilman Rick Garcia may be the elected official behind a moratorium being considered at city council tonight that would halt multi-unit development in northwest Denver. But are the real folks calling the shots the neighborhood activists Garcia represents?

After all, the moratorium isn't what one would consider subtle and thoughtful civic policy. The bill would prohibit multi-unit development in a good chunk of the Berkeley and Highland neighborhoods starting on January 1, 2010, and would continue until the citywide zoning code update goes into effect. While such a move would essentially just put into place rules expected to occur anyway once the zoning rewrite is complete, such a top-down and drastic approach to community planning is exactly the sort of thing that Denver's zoning-code update aims to avoid.

To be fair, the code rewrite is admittedly long overdue and continues to be plagued with delays (the city's now scheduled to vote on the final zoning bill on February 22). In the meantime, the Highland area has witnessed some truly atrocious multi-unit developments (check out some of the worst of the worst in this slideshow). But as Garcia's council colleague Charlie Brown has pointed out, northwest Denver isn't about to be obliterated by wrecking balls. According to Brown's research, there have been only 21 multi-unit building permits requested for in the area in question since 2004, and only one of those for a project larger than a duplex.

So what's the rush for Councilman Garcia? For one thing, he has to answer to some of Denver's most powerful NIMBYs -- those who espouse the view "Not In My Back Yard. (Want to figure out whether someone's a NIMBY? Anyone who vehemently pledges they're not a NIMBY is definitely a NIMBY.)

When some northwest Denver residents began raising a ruckus a few years ago about modern monstrosities taking over their quaint neighborhood, city council voted to down-zone two land parcels in Sloan's Lake and Highland during one of the longest and most contentious council hearing ever. Garcia backed the measure -- a move that wasn't too surprising, given that one of his aids, Pat Defa, is married to Ray Defa, among the down-zoning effort's main proponents.

Now it appears these same neighborhood activists are aiming to build upon their victory and designate a much larger segment of their 'hood a development-free zone -- and to them, the pace of the city's zoning rewrite doesn't cut it. When Garcia grumbled "Let's get moving with it," about the code update last November, it sure sounded like someone was holding a political gun, locked and loaded, to his head. While the councilman says the moratorium is all about stopping unpleasant development in his district, such unsightly projects will be nothing compared to the political ugliness he'll face if he lets his resident whiners down.

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