The Denver City Council turned a deaf ear to the public before foisting the bitterly opposed “group-living” zoning scheme — a recipe for neighborhood deterioration — on most of the city in February. The council had its fingers in its ears once again earlier this month, when it extended some of that policy’s profoundly problematic provisions to the rest of Denver.
Had council members been listening, they would have heard deep concern and intense opposition from every quarter. From racially and ethnically diverse homeowners of every social and economic status, representing every point on the compass on the city map.
From supporters for this reckless new policy, however, the council would have heard little more than crickets. And that should come as no surprise given the impact it will have — and how few people would want any part of it.
The council’s February vote 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 earlier this month extended one of those provisions — allowing five unrelated adults to a house — to the remaining minority of Denver neighborhoods that were still under the old, so-called “Chapter 59” zoning.
All of the city now can look forward to more cars and trash cans lining the curbs of once-quiet residential streets. More overall noise and congestion, as well. 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.
Meanwhile, in the majority of the city that will bear the full brunt of the zoning changes, it will mean a homeless shelter or even a halfway house could open in a strip mall near your house. It could be next to day cares, schools, rec centers.
Obviously, there’s no core constituency for any of that. This sweeping rewrite of the city’s zoning code wasn’t a call for action by some broad-based citizens group. Nor was it the recommendation of some blue-ribbon panel of presumed experts. It was in fact little more than the daydream of a roomful of urban visionaries in the planning department at City Hall. It was handed off to the council and then imposed upon the public. Fait accompli; done deal.
Of course, the council insists it really was listening all along; that the planning department hosted numerous forums and engaged with Denver residents in other ways; that the policy was revised to accommodate some objections. Then, absent any grassroots support for the basic plan that remained in tact, the council bulldozed ahead anyway.
So, if City Hall was listening to residents, it also was ignoring them. Which is all the more galling.
Hence, a petition drive now underway to place the policy on this November’s ballot in hopes of prompting voters to overturn it. Spearheaded by the upstart citizens group Safe and Sound Denver, the petition drive represents a groundswell of opposition by everyday Denverites who are telling City Hall, “No way. You can’t do this to our families; our neighborhoods; our lifetime investment — our homes.”
Organizers need around 9,000 signatures by May 13; they are aiming for 15,000 signatures to ensure a place on the ballot. They have been hosting gatherings throughout Denver at which residents can sign a petition, and they have been announcing their efforts via an e-newsletter and a helpful and informative website. Visit the website — https://www.safeandsounddenver.com — both for extensive background on the group-living policy itself and for information on how to get involved in the repeal campaign. One of the site’s pages also offers a lengthy list of neighborhood groups allied with the effort.
As daunting as it can be to fight city hall on any issue, there’s something uplifting and even heartwarming about this earnest, unflinching and spirited movement to roll back a bad policy. It arguably represents Denverites at their best — volunteering their time, talents and energy to band together to push back at a wild overreach by local government.
Here is your chance to stand up for your families, your homes, your neighbors and your neighborhood; for your quality of life. Sign up, and get on board!