Denver Planning Board members voted 6-4 Wednesday to recommend that City Council deny a property owner’s request for a zoning change he says will help him build more housing within reach of low-income families in the Cole neighborhood.
City planning staff had recommended the denial of the rezoning to allow a four-unit rental property at the corner of 36th Avenue and Race Street to be replaced with attached rowhouses that would have six homes. According to staff analysis, the rowhouses would be out of place in the area because it is dominated by single family homes and would allow for significantly more growth than city plans envision in the neighborhood.
City staff cited two documents that guide planning for growth in Denver, Blueprint Denver and Comprehensive Plan 2040. The board members who voted to deny the rezoning expressed regret that Cole doesn’t have its own plan, noted the neighborhood already has a mix of single and multi-family housing and praised the owner for wanting to build more affordable housing. Nonetheless, the six board members said they had to agree with the staff analysis of current city plans.
Joel Noble, who chairs the Planning Board and joined the majority in denying the rezoning, said the criteria the staff considered was likely to change as the city continues a discussion of how zoning can encourage the kind of density that promotes affordability.
“I think it’s a matter of holding on another year or two and revisiting this,” Noble said.
The owner, Tim Dupuis, said he would take his request to City Council despite the recommendation from the Planning Board.
“This may be something that they (City Council members) will vote differently from the Planning Board,” Dupuis said after the Planning Board vote. “Following the (zoning) code doesn’t always mean they’re doing the right thing for the people.”
Don Elliott, a planning board member who voted against Dupuis, said before the vote that City Council has in the past ignored planning board recommendations, particularly when community members oppose a recommendation. Dupuis’ request had the support of the Cole neighborhood association. The Planning Board received a half dozen letters in support of the proposal and only one in opposition.
Dupuis and his wife have for 15 years owned the four two-bedroom apartments in a low-slung brick building at 36th and Race that was built in 1961. Dupuis said his rents average less than $1,280. According to the online real estate company Apartment List, the median rent for a two-bedroom in Denver was $1,580 in September.
Older buildings — Dupuis’ units don’t even have air conditioning — tend to command cheaper rents. Dupuis said if he is able to build a new complex at the site, he would keep rents low.
The staff analysis did not take into account Housing an Inclusive Denver, a city document that calls for building affordable housing in “areas vulnerable to displacement.” Displacement has been a concern in Cole.
City planner Sarah Cawrse told Planning Board members that Housing an Inclusive Denver is more typically invoked when a developer is required, perhaps as a condition of receiving government funding, to provide affordable housing.
Dupuis is under no formal obligation to follow through on his promise that his new apartments would be affordable. He said that after years of doing business in Cole, he believed providing housing to working-class families was the right thing to do.
“We’re looking at giving back to the community that’s served us and that we have served,” he told the Planning Board.