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