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Denver Gazette | 'Group Living' -- all harm, no good

Jan 22, 2021

The deeper you dig into the “group-living” proposal now pending before the Denver City

Council, the more troubling it is. Even after assorted tweaks intended to placate

justifiably worried residents, the overreaching amendment to the city’s zoning code

comes across fundamentally as a cure in search of an ill. It’s even worse than a lot of

policy proposals that risk doing more harm than good; this one will do harm while doing

no discernible good at all.


It’s also a proposal for which there never was any community demand in the first place.

Incredibly, the years of committee work and planning that went into the proposal —

which led to public uproar once rank-and-file Denverites started finding out about it last

year — didn’t get its start by way of a petition drive among the city’s neighborhood

associations. Or as a publicly vetted recommendation from some blue-ribbon panel of

civic leaders. It wasn’t even a plank in the platform of an idealistic, if tone-deaf, City

Council candidate’s campaign.


No, it was in fact the handiwork of a handful of municipal technocrats whom few

members of the public had ever heard of. In pursuit of a more “equitable” cityscape, City

Hall’s social engineers thought it was a good idea to ratchet up congestion while

jeopardizing peace, quiet — and security — in neighborhoods across a broad swath of

the city.


The former convenience store next to your regular dry cleaners — in a strip mall parking

lot a couple of blocks from your house? You know — in the same shopping center where

there’s a day care? It could become a halfway house for criminal convicts.


The neighborhood cafe driven out of business last spring by the COVID-19 lockdown? It

could reopen as a homeless-services center or even a shelter. The single-family house

next to yours that recently had sold? A little remodeling, and it could rent out to five

different tenants — and their families.


In fact, the proposal in its latest iteration would — among its more objectionable

features:

• Sextuple the surface area of the city where homeless shelters and halfway houses could

operate — to include parts of town now zoned commercial, mixed use and even higherdensity

residential;

• Scrap a current, mandatory buffer between Denver’s schools and halfway houses (yes,

really);

• Allow up to five unrelated residents/tenants — including all minor children — in

single-family homes of any size.


And the well-intentioned folks behind this pipe dream want the City Council to impose

it on the city — for the sake of what Denver Senior City Planner Andrew Webb calls the

“greater good.” Of course, whenever local government invokes that catch-all, it rarely

can point to any one person who actually benefits.


The theoretical premise of it all? That it is somehow unfair that halfway houses or

homeless-services operations are located in places that are zoned for “industrial” or

related land uses. Instead, the theory goes, they should be spread out across the city.

Never mind that those facilities currently are located where they actually make sense.

They tend to be in warehouse-type buildings that work well for those uses. They are

along transit corridors, where those who are served by them can catch a ride to a job and

access related services nearby. Just as important, the current zoning keeps such facilities

out of residential and commercial areas, where they easily can pose both a nuisance and

a threat.


Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that even the many dedicated people who work to provide

services to the homeless through shelters and other facilities, or the contractors who

typically run halfway houses, haven’t asked for this change in zoning. It’s hard to see

how it could help them.


Yet, ultimately, Webb and his crew are just doing what people with degrees in urban

planning are trained to do — reimagine the urban landscape. And that, they have. In this

case, what they’ve conjured up just happens to have no practical value and stands to

backfire big time.


Don’t blame them. At the end of the day — Feb. 8, to be precise — it’s the Denver City

Council that will vote on the proposal. The onus is on the council to do the right thing

and send the group-living proposal to the circular file for good.


In recent months, some on the council have expressed considerable concern about the

proposal even as some others continue to prattle on about equity — without ever

enunciating equity for whom. For council members who haven’t yet made up their

minds, consider if nothing else that the timing couldn’t be worse.


On the heels of COVID; amid a violent crime wave, and in the face of such broad-based

community opposition, why push through such a contentious and divisive proposal?

Has anyone on council at least considered putting it to a vote? Better yet, just send it

packing.


There’s no shame in admitting this is one of those ideas that sounded good in grad

school — but makes no sense in the real world.

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