Richard Saiz

For a little over two years, the Group Living Advisory Committee, or GLAC, led by Senior City Planner, Andrew Webb, has been working to revamp Denver’s Zoning Code. Presumably, with the blessing of Mayor Michael Hancock and two at-large city council members, the GLAC has developed the complex and far-reaching, 184-page, Group Living Amendment.

The GL Amendment is presented as the solution for many of the problems that have plagued Denver for years: inequities in the zoning code; the lack of affordable housing and, more recently, concerns related to COVID-19.

According to group living proponents, allowing more unrelated adults to live in a dwelling unit will help minorities and remove inequities created by outdated codes, which might sound reasonable, but there are more details to consider.

Numerous Denver residents who have been apprised of the Group Living Advisory Committee plan, complain that it is flawed because the 48-member committee is unfairly dominated by industry insiders and because there has not been enough public outreach. In fact, most Denver residents have no idea that the Group Living Amendment even exists and are in for a rude awakening if City Council votes to approve it in October.

It will be a rude awakening because there is another, less talked about component in the Group Living Amendment — a provision that will allow private, for-profit, corporations to operate community corrections facilities and homeless shelters in Denver’s residential neighborhoods. Whether by accident or design, the GLAC has consistently focused its outreach on the more-palatable, unrelated-adults facet of its plan rather than on the more controversial community corrections aspect.

The GLAC proposes that the number of unrelated adults allowed to live in a dwelling be increased from two to five, which does not sound too bad until you consider the details; five unrelated adults, plus their relatives in a 1,600 sf dwelling with one bathroom and no required minimum number of bedrooms. The phrase, “plus their relatives” could mean five unrelated adults, it could mean five unrelated adults plus five spouses, it could mean five unrelated adults plus spouses and 20 relatives in a 1,600 sf dwelling, which is too vague.

For dwellings larger than 1,600 square feet, the maximum number of unrelated adults is 10. The GL Amendment sets no minimum requirement for bedrooms per person, which creates privacy and safety concerns, especially for children and other vulnerable persons. Extolled by GL proponents as an absolute necessity due to hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Group Living Amendment would make it more difficult for people to limit the size of their “bubble” as recommended by the CDC. Changes to the city’s zoning rules may be unnecessary as Denver currently allows more than two unrelated adults to live in a dwelling by permit. As for correcting inequities in the zoning code, 20% of the city falls under Denver’s old Chapter 59 Code and would be exempt from the provisions of the Group Living Amendment, which means that only 80% of Denver’s neighborhoods would “benefit” from the new and improved code.

Few Denverites have heard that the Group Living Amendment would allow private, for-profit companies to operate community corrections facilities and homeless shelters in residential areas, but most who have heard of the changes are obviously distressed.

Under the GLAC plan, 11 to 40 inmates could be incarcerated in homes on lots larger than 12,000 sf and 1 to 10 inmates could be held on lots smaller than 12,000 sf. There are over 5,400 residential properties larger than 12,000 sf in Denver. Under the revised rules, Denver’s residential neighborhoods will serve as magnets for inmates, as the privately-owned, community corrections facilities will be allowed to house, and profit, from inmates transferred from other municipalities in Colorado.

The Group Living Amendment is too complex and far-reaching for every aspect of the GL plan to be listed in this commentary, but does anyone imagine that the health and safety of the inmates and of neighbors will be greater under these proposed changes? Group Living advocates seem unconcerned with how a community corrections facility will affect neighboring property values. In my opinion, the community corrections/homeless shelter piece needs to be removed from the GL Amendment.

Partly due to COVID-19, there has been limited public outreach related to the proposed GL Amendment, but whenever Denverites have been informed of the GLAC plan, they overwhelmingly oppose it (over 80% by most counts). Despite the overwhelming opposition to the GLAC plan, city planners have pushed on with only minor adjustments, refusing to separate the unrelated adults component from the community corrections/homeless shelter piece.

Anyone concerned about the Group Living Amendment and what it will mean for Denver should contact their councilperson, at-large council members Debbie Ortega and Robin Kniech and the mayor — immediately. City Council should vote “no” on the GL Amendment.

Richard Saiz is president of the Bear Valley Improvement Association in southwest Denver.

Richard Saiz is president of the Bear Valley Improvement Association in southwest Denver.

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