“Suburban” south Denver neighborhood gets its first ADU request

While ADU requests have become normal in Denver, this one needs a little more scrutiny, said Councilwoman Kendra Black.

3397 S. Geneva St. in Denver's Hampden neighborhood.

3397 S. Geneva St. in Denver's Hampden neighborhood.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rezonings for accessory dwelling units have become routine in Denver. But Councilwoman Kendra Black said the first request for an ADU rezoning in her south Denver district needed a bit more attention than usual.

Black said Tuesday during a meeting of the Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee that not only was it the first time a homeowner was requesting a rezoning to build an ADU in her District 4, it was the first ADU rezoning proposal in a Denver neighborhood that planners consider “suburban.” Suburban areas are characterized by single-family homes along curving streets, with commercial buildings largely relegated to shopping centers.

An ADU is a small residential unit that shares a lot with a main house. It’s also known as a carriage house or casita.

“It’s a different beast in these suburban zone districts,” Black said.

The councilwoman noted, for example, that alleys that make solving access and parking issues easier were less common in suburban areas than in some of the more central Denver areas where ADU rezoning requests have been more common.

The committee referred the ADU request, which would add an ADU to a 17,500-square-foot lot at 3397 South Geneva Street in the Hampden neighborhood, to the full City Council. A vote of the full council is tentatively scheduled for next month. City planners have recommended approval, saying in part that the proposal meets the goals of Blueprint Denver that City Council adopted last year. Blueprint Denver, a policy document laying out how land should be used and transportation planned as the city grows, portrays ADUs as a gentle way to add density to the city’s residential areas.

Aaron Rodecker, who bought the house 3397 South Geneva Street in 2018, said he wants to move his mother into an ADU he plans to build over a garage. One of his neighbors, Michael Clark, expressed his opposition in a lengthy letter that was the only public comment on the proposal that was sent to city planners.

“The structure in question will be directly behind me, essentially a new house in my backyard within sight of our great room’s large windows that look out into our yard directly into this back yard. I do not want to have a new stand-alone structure in my site view,” Clark wrote.

“This is a family neighborhood of single-family homes and was developed and built with this purpose in mind,” he added.

Clark also raised concerns about whether what he described as “absentee landlords” would maintain property in his neighborhood. He said the owner of 3397 South Geneva had turned the home into a rental property and was allowing the lawn and trees to die and weeds to take over the yard.

Black, pointing out that owners of ADUs are required by Denver law to live in either the ADU or the main house, questioned Rodecker during the Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee about his primary residence. Rodecker said he split his time between California and Denver but considered 3397 South Geneva, which he said he shared with two roommates, to be his main home.

City zoning regulations allow one ADU per lot in about a quarter of Denver. In areas not zoned for ADUs, a homeowner who wants one must ask city council for a rezoning. The city’s Community Planning & Development department recently redesigned the application form for an ADU rezoning to streamline the process.

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