Saturday, November 21, 2009

Druid Zoning

Denver's new zoning code is on track for approval in February, after about five years of hard work. In the last few days, many folks have rallied in support of "passive solar access". It's a big enough groundswell that it has gotten everyone's (except the Mayor's) attention for the moment.

At first blush, it sounds like a great idea, but only one person has attempted to quantify what it really would require in terms of zoning.

Bernadette Kelly of MOA describes "block sensitive height limits" as a solution. Similar to how the context sensitive front setback is calculated, it would regulate building heights based on the current status of what's on the ground. She cites an English "right to light" law that derives from the Druid civilization. To paraphrase: "if a structure has had access to the sun for at least 20 years, it is illegal to ever block the sun from that structure".

It does solve the problem, would satisfy most solar advocates, but it is a bit impractical to implement, and would greatly diminish your neighbor's current property rights. (Full disclosure: the author is a solar advocate, but hopes to profit from the ability to increase density in transit neighborhoods)

It's doubtful that this proposal will see the light of day in this version of the zoning code, but it's not without merit. Some neighborhoods of one story homes and large side setbacks may want to STAY neighborhoods of one story homes and large side setbacks, and there are no tools in Zoning Code draft 3 to help preserve that context. Two story homes have always been allowed everywhere in Denver, and CPD has thus far refused to change that.


  1. I was thinking about this on Friday. I wish there was more context sensitive height restriction (similar to front setback) – "the maximum height is an average of the heights of two adjacent structures". I think this approach would solve so many problems from solar access to historic sensitivity etc. It may be impractical to implement though.

  2. Hey! This is Bernadette Kelly, I Googled myself and found this blog! Yeah, if someone has had the right to pop the top on their house or scrape and build new for however many decades, then CPD will never eliminate that right. Even if it seems preposterous when I thought that form based code was relative to context???

  3. Well, Bernadette, CPD doesn't mind taking away property rights. As you know, thousands of owners lost their right to build a second dwelling unit, when their zoning was changed in June from R-2 to U-SU-C