Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Denver's Zoning Now on the Cutting Edge

By now, anyone studying urban planning knows that cities brought wasteful sprawl upon themselves through idiotic policies, culminating in the "greatest mis-allocation of resources in the history of the world"

If cities are to heal themselves, we are unfortunately at the mercy of the same species that got us here, the zoners and planners.

The City of Denver recently adopted a new zoning code after a six year process.  A lot of  anti-sprawl policies were incorporated, however, some "neighborhood preservation" policies were included that tend to be anti-density and therefore pro-sprawl.

Rewriting the zoning code is difficult, because it's like answering the question, "How will our great grandchildren live, work, commute, and what do they want their city to be like?"  So Denver has taken a stab at it, and in some ways we're on to something.

A recent article predicts that the housing market will help revive our economy, but it's not your father's housing market anymore:

" the Great Recession has highlighted a fundamental change in what consumers do want: homes in central cities and closer-in suburbs where one can walk to stores and mass transit. Such “walkable urban” real estate has experienced less than half the average decline in price from the housing peak."   

Denver has responded to this change in the market by legalizing carriage houses for a few thousand lucky homeowners, and introducing tandem house zoning for some of the neighborhoods that used to be zoned for duplexes (R2).

During the recent real estate boom, many reasonably nice homes in gentrifying R2 neighborhoods were being demolished to make way for profitable duplexes.  Due to the limitations of the old R2 zoning, building a duplex was formerly the only way homeowners and infill redevelopers could take advantage of the changing demand.

Under the new tandem house and carriage house zoning,  a detached new home can be built to the rear or side of the lot without having to scrape the old house.  In fact, in the present economic climate, it would be very risky to scrape a performing asset and invest $500,000 to $1M in a speculative duplex.  Very few other cities now offer this new option, but those that do will have a clear economic development edge.  The livability of these neighborhoods will gradually improve, and home values should follow.


  1. Here is a really cool interactive zoning map of Denver's neighborhoods. You can pinpoint your street.


  2. Brett,

    Thanks for the info!
    Your link didn't go straight to the map, so here it is: