By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4) – As the city of Denver seeks to provide a wide variety of equitable, affordable housing options in the city, the city’s planning board has voted in favor of proposed plans to its group living rules. The proposed plans will now go to the city council for discussion and decision.

The unanimous approval came with an amended text to ask that an evaluation should be conducted annually over the next four years looking into the unintended consequences of the new rules. All voted yes for the amended text. The board voted also that a community meeting must be held before a community corrections facility can open in a single unit, two-unit, or row-house zone districts.

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The approval vote comes following a more than eight-hour-long meeting Wednesday, with 74 people speaking during the public comment period, and planning board members asked dozens of questions about the proposal. The decision also comes after three years of work and research by city officials.

“This is very thoroughly vetted, by very thoughtful people,” said Denver planning board member Don Elliott. “We have a very heavy focus on inclusivity… it dismantles an incredible amount of inequity and racial bias.”

The proposed group living changes would allow five unrelated adults to live in a single-family home that is less than 1,800 square feet, instead of only two. For every additional 200 square feet, another unrelated adult is allowed to live on the property, with up to 10 people allowed to live in a single-family home. In addition, any number of related adults can also live in the home. The city of Denver does not have the ability to regulate the number of related adults who live together.

City officials say the proposed changes are an implementation tool for overarching city plans, like Blueprint Denver and Denver Comprehensive Plan 2040.

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The proposed plans would also allow community corrections, or halfway houses, to exist in all Denver neighborhoods, as long as a community meeting is held first.

City officials say the updated rules for halfway houses are important for greater equity in city zoning regulations.

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“For decades, the zoning code has said those are only appropriate for certain neighborhoods, the industrial areas and nearby neighborhoods, and this is really about alleviating the burden on those communities that have hosted these types of facilities for years, by allowing these facilities to exist anywhere in the city,” said Andrew Webb, the senior city planner in charge of the proposed plans. “Allow these uses where they can be near transit, employment, and community, the daily needs for people who are transitioning back into the community.”

Some neighbors are concerned about the proposed plans, saying it could make neighborhoods too crowded and more dangerous, but others believe the plans are important to give the city’s more vulnerable residents better access to affordable housing, grocery stores, and community resources.

Planning board members said they were impressed by the way Webb was able to answer all of the questions they had, and some members say Webb’s thorough ability to explain the proposed changes convinced them to vote in favor of the proposal, and recommend it to the city council.

“He’s spent hours with hundreds, thousands, of people, including myself,” said board member Susan Stanton. “I really commend him.”

Now, the city council will contemplate and vote on the issue. One councilperson, Robin Kniech, spoke at the planning board meeting saying she originally asked city officials to examine how to revamp the city’s group housing rules back in 2017.

In her remarks about how the new rules would help the city, Kniech asked, “does one neighborhood have more value to us than others?”

If the city council approves the measure, it will next go to the mayor’s office for signature, and would be effective immediately.

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A public hearing before the full council is expected in October. Additional information on how to participate will be posted here.

Kati Weis