The era of the slot home may finally be over in Denver, and its funeral turned into an airing of grievances.
“I hate slot homes. I hate them,” said Maggie Miller, a resident who worked to rein in the controversial building design. “It feels like being in a canyon.”
With a unanimous 11-0 vote on Monday, the city’s elected leaders moved to ban the construction of the unusual residences that have spread through northwestern Denver neighborhoods in recent years.
First: What is a slot home?
“Without a doubt, these slot homes were an abuse of our zoning codes,” said Councilman Paul López, whose west-side district has seen plenty of them. “They robbed our neighborhoods of character and they robbed residents of community.”
A slot home is a multi-unit residential project that is designed around a narrow driveway or open space, aka “the slot.” At the heart of the years-long controversy was a seemingly simple design question: Should buildings have to face the street?
“It was much more like a slot than a courtyard,” said senior city planner Analiese Hock.
The outer walls of these buildings often are bare of details — blank walls and utility equipment facing the sidewalk. Critics say that’s not a great way to build a community.
“It’s as though they don’t want us to come to their front doors … because they never come out, they never go out their front door, because there is no real front door,” said Gertrude Grant, referring to her efforts to canvas in slot territory. (Do you live in a slot home? Email me.)
City staff estimate that more than 100 of these projects have been built in Denver. Many have gone up since the city implemented new zoning rules in 2010, but they date back to the 1970s, according to Hock.
The ban will not affect existing slot homes.
Here’s what the new stuff could look like:
Denver planners came up with these illustrations of current slot homes — and what could replace them under the new revisions.
Buildings won’t have to look exactly like this. The different examples apply to different zones. (Check your neighborhood’s zoning here.)
How exactly are they getting rid of it?
The new proposal to kill slot homes was the result of more than a year of work, with city planners working alongside a task force of developers, residents and others.
“We saw some of the ugliest slot homes in the world, and some that were pretty decent, too,” said Councilman Wayne New.
The most obvious change is that housing units near the street now must face the street. The units in the back can still face sideways, but the ones up front have to form a unified block. Parking access for many buildings would be from the alley.
In some cases, the city also is lowering height limits and requiring buildings to be set further back from the street.
Developers have said that the change could reduce the number of residences they can fit on a given lot — shrinking some developments from 12 units to 11 units. (In fact, the slot home was invented to maximize square footage and profits.)
“It will create a better product, but I do think that real-estate wise, there’s going to be a couple hundred land sellers that are going to be very unhappy with this,” said Ty Mumford, a developer who also is on the slot home task force, in an earlier interview.
Councilman Rafael Espinoza, though, has said that many landowners could still pursue larger projects in the form of condos and apartments.
Meanwhile, the city government is asking even bigger questions about whether it can improve the modern architecture of Denver — check out our coverage from last week.
And, no matter what rules the city passes, developers are gonna develop.
“I’ve had developers tell me that if there’s loopholes in the zoning code, they’re going to find them,” said Heather Noyes, who also worked on the proposal. ” … We need the tools and our staff needs the authority to stop this in its tracks.”
But a city attorney warned that it will ultimately be up to the Denver City Council to make changes to the zoning code when issues arise.