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The city of Denver is preparing to launch an 18- to 20-month initiative to increase equity in the current rezoning process, Denver Planning Services announced Thursday at the City Council policy committee.

Rezoning is a public process that changes the rules for land use and types of buildings permitted on a property, including neighborhood outreach and multiple City Council votes.

Officials said Thursday the equity in zoning initiative would revamp current rezoning criteria to address concerns about barriers to access for community members, avoid speculative rezonings and better align with the city’s goals for equity and climate.

Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said some of Denver’s current rezoning criteria dates back to the 1950s. “I don’t believe that those are based in equity and that they are going to have the kind of outcomes that we need,” she said.

“I can’t sleep at night when I think about a contentious rezoning and the impacts of the neighbors and how they feel helpless,” Sandoval said. “All I want to do through this process of adding equity is to give power to the people.”

The city will launch its equity in rezoning initiative this fall, according to Denver Planning Services. Prior to the public launch, the process will begin with the establishment of a steering committee and one-on-one meetings with each council member to determine their priorities.

The initiative will include an extended citywide community outreach program and eventual adoption of the Denver Zoning Code Text Amendments. Another update will be presented to the City Council before the end of 2021.

According to Denver Planning Services, the initiative has the following core goals:

  • Improving community engagement and access to the rezoning process
  • Improving how equity impacts are evaluated as part of the rezoning process
  • Making requirements clearer for the applicant to commit to equitable development
  • Modernizing rezoning criteria
  • Addressing the impacts of proposed rezonings on surrounding residents

In addition to these goals, city staff and council members requested their own changes Thursday. Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said she believes the city council should have access to more details in rezoning applications when voting. 

“It’s almost like we’re making a decision solely on the criteria without any knowledge of the project whatsoever, even though you all at the planning office, more often or not, have the details,” Ortega said.

This and other recommendations will be collected before the initiative's launch. 

This effort comes as the city has already been working to address issues in the rezoning process in recent years, including revising the rezoning application to include questions about how the rezoning advances equity and climate goals.

Recently implemented policy encourages rezoning applicants to complete a concept review meeting prior to submitting a rezoning application.

The city also is currently working to update its equity analysis for rezoning, including adding more data to track vulnerability to displacement, improving integration into presentations and documents and expanding the current acre threshold to include NEST neighborhoods.

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