In a unanimous vote, Denver City Council approved a neighborhood-wide rezoning for the Chaffee Park neighborhood. While individual property rezonings usually aren’t newsworthy, rezoning an entire neighborhood is far less common and far more significant. This rezoning is the culmination of over two years worth of work. Every property in the neighborhood that’s at least 4500 square feet will be able to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), a secondary, normally smaller, home on their property. Sometimes called “carriage houses” or “mother-in-law apartments” because they can house an extended family member, they are also often utilized as long term rentals. They can also be used as short term rentals (such as AirBnB), but only under specific circumstances.
“I’m excited to bring forward this opportunity,” said Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval who sponsored the legislation. She sees the rezoning as important because of “the ability to create a different type of housing stock — people call it the missing middle.” She believes ADUs can help several demographics in search of reasonably priced housing in an increasingly expensive North Denver: seniors who want to downsize but stay in the neighborhood can rent either their main home or ADU for retirement income and live in the other, families who want an extended family member living close (but not too close), college students, and others. “It’s a different housing stock we don’t have much of,” she added.
The rezoning is the combination of work from the Chaffee Park Registered Neighborhood Organization (RNO), Councilwoman Sandoval’s office, and others. Sandoval said the RNO “approached me before I was even sworn into office.” Together with the RNO, her office fliered the neighborhood, held community meetings, created an online survey, and otherwise sought to get input before making the final decision to sponsor the legislation.
“The RNO is excited,” said Jason Hornyak, head of the Chaffee Park Neighborhood Association. “The majority of our neighborhood is excited. I’m glad Chaffee Park and our neighbors could come together and support something that may not personally benefit every person but will benefit the neighborhood as a whole. ADUs create affordably priced housing. They create housing near jobs. They’re better for the environment.”
Hornyak said he’s concerned that as property values go up the taxes with them will as well, and many longtime residents have been left with only two options: struggling to meet increasing costs or sell their homes, cashing in on the increased value but being forced to move. He believes the ADU rezoning offers a 3rd option, especially if they rent out their ADU in Denver’s hot rental market. Hornyak said he isn’t planning on building an ADU himself and has no personal stake in the rezoning, but he is excited for his neighbors to have more options.
While fights over increasing density have been a staple of North Denver politics for years, the combination of Sandoval’s sponsorship and strong, activated support from the neighborhood organization changed the dynamics, helping the change cruise to success.
All seven of the speakers during the council meeting spoke in support, including neighborhood residents, property owners, and housing advocates from other areas of the city.
Nola Miguel, a Chaffee Park resident, was one of those speakers. She wants to build an ADU for her mother so she can be close to her and her children.
Allison O’Kelly moved to Chaffee Park seven years ago. “I was lucky to be able to afford a house at the time,” she told the council. She also believes the rezoning will create opportunities for more people who are otherwise priced out of the community.
During the council meeting, city staff said the letters they received were over 4 to 1 in support of the rezoning. While there was no organized opposition, some neighborhood residents have expressed concerns about parking, density, and “neighborhood character.” No opposition spoke during the meeting. Short term rentals have often been a point of contention across the city with neighbors sometimes complaining about party houses, but the new ADUs can only be used exclusively for short term rentals if the homeowner lives in the main home. The main home and the ADU can’t both be converted to short term rentals, nor can the main home be a long term rental and have the ADU as a short term rental.
Chaffee Park may be a smaller neighborhood on the Northern edge of the city, but the change is likely to have a large impact across Denver. Blueprint Denver and other city plans call for more ADU zoning to help meet Denver’s ever-growing housing needs, and even some of the staunchest defenders of single family home zoning find the slight density increase preferable to the addition of more high-rises. Sandoval said she’s using current zoning change request data to consider changes in other neighborhoods as well. “We did an audit of where ADUs are coming in on their own,” Sandoval explained. The Sloan’s Lake neighborhood had the most rezoning requests in her district, leading her to conduct a community survey to gather opinions about ADUs in the area.