Many questions surround the homes resembling tiny ski chalets near downtown Denver that have helped people off the streets. But one thing became clear Thursday: Beloved Community Village will have more time — more than it had even requested — to find answers.
The village at 38th and Blake has been the subject of a series of tense meetings with residents in Globeville, where loud opposition has greeted a city proposal that the neighborhood host a new site for the shelter alternative at 4400 Pearl. Thursday, Colorado Village Collaborative, the nonprofit that sponsors the village, got a receptive hearing before the Building Code Board of Appeals, which must weigh in when a building project need to have city regulations bent a bit.
The tiny homes will soon have to vacate 38th and Blake because that plot is slated for an affordable housing development. Cole Chandler, co-director of Colorado Village Collaborative, asked for a 45-day extension — through the end of April — of a soon-to-expire city permit for 38th and Blake. The 45 days coincides with extra time that the landowner, the Urban Land Conservancy, had already offered.
During the hearing that lasted less than an hour, several members of the appeals board questioned whether a month and a half was enough, given the opposition in Globeville and the possibility the village will have to settle on another site. Board member Matt Chiodini proposed a 180-day extension for 38th and Blake, surprising Chandler.
“I definitely wasn’t prepared to speak to that question,” Chandler said.
After confirming that the start of construction could be put off even longer by the conservancy, whose senior vice president of real estate Debra Bustos attended the hearing to support the collaborative, the five-member board unanimously approved Chiodini’s proposal. The board’s chairman, Jerry Maly, pointed out the village does not have to use all the extra time.
Reached later, City Councilman Albus Brooks welcomed the extension. His District 9 includes both 38th and Blake and 4400 Pearl. While Brooks said 4400 Pearl has not been ruled out, “we definitely need to make sure that we have an optional site if the Globeville opportunity kind of falls apart.”
Brooks said he was considering several other sites in his district. He would not elaborate.
“I want us to … do our due diligence first,” said Brooks, who has been supportive of the move to 4400 Pearl.
At the hearing, Chandler had also been backed by Mayor Michael Hancock and Jill Jennings Golich, interim executive director of Denver’s community planning and development department. The two signed a letter to the appeals board that said the village “is in danger of being forced to shut down, pushing people out of stable housing, away from a support network, and back into homelessness. We do not want to see that happen.”
Jennings Golich attended the hearing, as did Evan Dreyer, Hancock’s deputy chief of staff. Scott Prisco, Denver’s chief building official, was on hand to tell the appeals board that the city sees Beloved Community Village as a “tremendously successful” pilot for an approach to ending homelessness it would like to expand. Prisco’s staff is working on amendments to regulations that are expected to be presented to City Council later this year that would allow longer permit periods for future tiny home villages.
Beloved Community Village’s 11 temporary structures may lack plumbing, but they have provided stability for the past 18 months to people who have experienced homelessness. In that time five residents have moved on to permanent housing, while two have been expelled from the self-governing community for breaking rules that encourage cooperation and ban drugs and violence. All 12 of the current residents are either working, in school or receiving disability payments.
Globeville residents have nonetheless expressed fear that the residents would be disruptive. While some residents have said they would welcome the village, the mood at three community meetings has been angry. Residents argue that a historically neglected and fragile neighborhood is being pressured by the city and by Colorado Village Collaborative to solve a problem it did not create.
Beloved Community Village had expected to move at the end of last year from 38th and Blake to a plot offered at Taxi.
That plan was unexpectedly derailed in November, when Denver’s public works department said the Taxi site was inappropriate due to flood concerns. The city offered 4400 Pearl in late January.
Denver City Council must approve the proposal to lease the city-owned plot at 4400 Pearl to Colorado Village Collaborative for about $10 a year. The council’s Finance and Governance Committee has given preliminary approval. A full council vote initially set for Feb. 19 has been indefinitely postponed.
Speaking to the building appeals board Thursday, Colorado Village Collaborative’s Chandler acknowledged council was unlikely to approve the proposal now.
“We’ve been working to try to build community support,” he said.
In their letter, the mayor and his planning and development director said they had heard the protests at the community meetings.
“We’ve also heard support from residents who haven’t been able to make the meetings,” Hancock and Jennings Golich said. “The city is doing everything in its power to accommodate the needs and concerns of the existing Globeville residents, including exploring alternative sites for the village’s relocation.”
Tanya Salih of the Colorado Village Collaborative leadership team said Thursday that the village residents were coping with the uncertainty.
“They’ve all supported each other, and we’ve supported them,” she said. “They know it’s a long process.”