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An outdoor dining area on 16th Street Mall in Denver is vacant on Oct. 2, 2020. Many restaurants on the mall have expanded their seating to include outdoor areas to allow for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.(Forrest Czarnecki/The Denver Gazette)

A bill that would extend zoning for outdoor dining and managed homeless encampments through 2023 was approved by the Denver City Council land use committee on Tuesday, moving it to the full council for a vote.

The bill builds on a zoning ordinance passed last year that allowed COVID-19-related temporary uses of land such as the temporary outdoor expansion of restaurants facing capacity limits and the outdoor encampments created to address Denver’s growing homeless population.

Currently, the zoning ordinance is set to expire for parts of Denver when city and state emergency health orders end; however, the bill would push the expiration date to Dec. 31, 2023.

Kyle Dalton with Denver Community Planning and Development said the extension would “assist our recovery from COVID’s negative impacts on businesses and housing stability.”

The programs made possible under the zoning ordinance have been widely used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Denver, 142 restaurants opened temporary outdoor seating and two managed homeless encampments are operating in Capitol Hill, with a third set to open in Park Hill next month.

In addition, the zoning ordinance also allowed 52 housing units and supportive services to expand during the pandemic.

The need for these services is still great, Dalton said. The number of people sheltered by the city increased by 60% from March 2020 to March 2021 and, though capacity limits have been lifted for restaurants, the extra seating helps restaurants recover economically from more than a year of decreased business.

For the other 75% of the city under the Denver Zoning Code, the extension has already been approved by Denver Community Planning and Development without the need for City Council confirmation.

“This is an equity conversation,” said Councilman Chris Herndon in support of the bill. "Why we would allow it in the Denver zoning code and not Former Chapter 59 doesn’t make sense.”

The bill will have to pass two full City Council votes in the coming weeks before implementation.

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