The Denver City Council reminded us last week that misery loves company. In a unanimous vote, the council decided to spread some of the pain from its “group-living” policy — imposed earlier this year on most Denver neighborhoods — to the rest of the city.
There was one consolation for the latest areas to be targeted: It could have been even worse.
The council first approved the controversial zoning-code revision for much of Denver in February. That sextupled the area of the city where homeless shelters and halfway houses may open; scrapped a buffer between Denver’s schools and halfway houses, and permitted up to five unrelated residents/tenants — and all their family members — in any single-family home.
The council’s follow-up action last Monday extends only one of those provisions — allowing five unrelated adults to a house — to Denver neighborhoods that are still under the old, so-called “Chapter 59” zoning. So, at least those neighborhoods won’t have to face a homeless shelter or halfway house opening in a nearby strip mall (for now).
But like the rest of the city, they can look forward to more cars and trash cans lining the curbs of their once-quiet residential streets. More overall noise and congestion, too. In other words, what was once a next-door neighbor’s single-family home on a quiet cul de sac could become a de facto apartment complex — without any of the infrastructure to support it.
It’s as if council members either are unaware of Denver’s many pleasant, peaceful, easy-living neighborhoods — indeed, in their own districts — or simply don’t value them.
Clearly, they don’t value popular opinion in those neighborhoods. If they did, they would have consulted voters on the citywide ballot about such a sweeping rewrite of fundamental land-use rules. They are rules, after all, that have a big impact on our city’s quality of life.
Of course, the effects won’t be felt right away. As we observed after the original vote, the new policy’s severest consequences will unfold gradually. Ever more congestion; ever less peace, quiet and security in neighborhood after neighborhood — will take a little while to set in.
If there is a silver lining to this most recent council vote for undermining more Denver neighborhoods, it is that it probably will recruit more Denverites to sign onto a recently launched citizens campaign to repeal group living via the citywide ballot. That effort is underway and has organized a campaign committee.
If it is to succeed, this grassroots movement will have to gather over 9,000 signatures of city residents to get on the ballot. It’ll take a concerted effort.
Group living was conjured up by urban planners at City Hall, out of the public’s sight, and caught many residents off guard. Many more may be similarly unaware of the policy even now that it’s in force. Opponents will have to mount a persuasive campaign to educate the public and particularly to make clear what lies ahead if they let group living stay on the books.