To many residents of Denver’s older neighborhoods, the blocky modern “slot” homes that have packed sideways-oriented townhouses onto their blocks aren't ideal. And they have good reason.
“Nobody wants residences that have a door that doesn’t face the street,” said Margie Valdez, a neighborhood advocate who leads a zoning and planning committee for the group Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation.
City planners proposed a set of new zoning rules Monday after grappling for more than a year with how to address complaints surrounding the influx of slot homes in fast-redeveloping neighborhoods including Jefferson Park, Five Points and Cherry Creek North.
Slot homes have drawn the most complaints when developers buy up one or two lots in a residential neighborhood and use zoning allowing rowhouses. These aren’t traditional rowhomes: The buildings, to some, resemble shoe boxes, with all units built in a structure that’s perpendicular to the street, and often with a drive aisle and garages beneath.
Some structures built in recent years greet pedestrians walking past with a bank of utility meters and a fire-access door — but few windows or doors.
The developers followed Denver’s 2010 zoning code, and they point out that the resulting townhomes have been popular with buyers.
But critics concerned about safety and maintaining an urban neighborhood’s cohesiveness contend that developers exploited the zoning rules for mixed-use, multi-unit residential and rowhouse zoning districts — rules that weren’t intended to allow the packing of a dozen or more townhomes into side-by-side lots by filling them to the back.
The new zoning text amendment was proposed by the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development based on the work of a task force that included neighborhood advocates, developers and architects. (The draft text amendment is available on the city’s website.)
If it’s adopted by the City Council in May, new developments would have to meet more stringent standards and requirements. Those include orienting main buildings toward the street, reducing setbacks, tightening height restrictions and mandating more street engagement.
Here are the major changes proposed in the zoning amendments:
More restricted versions of garden courts would be allowed in more urban zoning districts — with their front units facing the street — but garden courts wouldn’t be allowed any longer in rowhouse and townhouse districts.
In all zoning districts that currently allow slot homes, developments would be required to have side-by-side, front-facing units along the primary street or, in the case of a corner lot, the side street. In mixed-use and multi-unit districts, interior or side-facing units would be allowed only behind the main front building, making them less visible.
Drive aisles still would be allowed, along with garages, but they would be less visible from the street.
A schedule provided by the planning department says it will solicit public input on the zoning amendments before seeking the Denver Planning Board’s recommendation for approval in March. The proposal then would go to the council in May for final approval. Exact meeting dates haven’t been set.
Both the Planning Board and the council will have public hearings before they vote.