The Denver City and County Building.

The Denver City and County Building.

Developers of projects of five acres or more will have to involve the public earlier in the planning process and provide up to 10% of publicly accessible open space under a new procedure adopted by the Denver City Council on Monday.

The council voted 11-0 to change the way in which large scale developments are evaluated by city planners. Councilmen Wayne New and Paul Lopez were not present for the vote.

The changes come after a municipal election campaign season in which critics hammered Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration for what they saw as a situation where developers were driving the process and neighborhoods often felt left out.

“The future of our neighborhoods is best served when neighbors come together to envision that future for themselves,” Hancock said in a statement released after the vote.

“This change will allow us to capitalize on this strength and trigger a community-driven planning process ahead of new, large developments if sufficient plan guidance is not already in place and ensure that our neighborhoods’ priorities are met and supported,” he added.

The new rules, known as a large development review, replace an older system known as a general development plan that had been in place since the 1990s.

Among the changes are:

  • a community meeting with the developers earlier in the process to discuss their plans. The meeting would occur before the formal application for the project is submitted. “The GDP (general development plan) tool isn’t really built to have a robust community dialog and engagement,” Senior City Planner Jeff Hirt told the council prior to the vote.

  • Reducing the threshold for a large development review from 10 acres to five.
  • A requirement that the plan include 10% privately owned but publicly accessible open space.

The old system also had a requirement for 10% open space. But under the new procedure, the open space would need to be visible from the street and accessible to the public and contiguous.

So, for example, an off-street parking space or a small strip of landscaping would not count toward open space, but a courtyard visible and accessible from the street would count.

Hirt said the new procedure will not apply to the 28 projects already under review by city planners, but it will apply to large-scale developments going forward.

At-large City Councilwoman Robin Kneich welcomed the changes.

“I believe this is an important step forward in creating a more rational clear system for proceeding with large redevelopment,” she said.

Denver’s Community Planning and Development Department has drafted a set of rules and regulations to administer the new process.

Those rules will be considered at a public hearing before the Denver Planning Board at 3 p.m. July 17 in Parr-Widener Community Room (Room 389) of the City and County Building at 1437 Bannock Street.

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