By J. Patrick O’Leary
After months of debate by neighborhood representatives, developers and housing experts, the city will hold public hearings and vote on a proposal to tighten the zoning code’s Small Lot Parking Exemption.
Currently, lots in mixed-use commercial districts that are 6,250 square feet or smaller and that existed as of June 25, 2010, are exempt from off-street parking requirements, regardless of the development capacity or uses.
The proposed text amendment, sponsored by District 9 Councilman Albus Brooks, would limit the parking exemption on those lots to the first three stories of new buildings located near rail stations and transit routes, and the first two stories elsewhere.
Use of the exemption raised neighbors’ ire last year when a developer, claiming the exemption, received city approval to build 108 “micro” apartments and a restaurant at 1570-78 Humboldt, without new off-street parking.
In response, in August City Council passed a seven-month moratorium on Community Planning and Development (CPD) approving projects using the exemption, and created a 15-member “6250 Steering Committee” to review the exemption and recommend changes. That group met five times since September, but failed to reach a consensus when all four of its neighborhood representatives withheld approval of the proposal at the final Dec. 15 meeting.
Brooks’ proposal limits the parking exemption for new buildings on small lots to the first two stories above the base plane; the code’s existing minimum parking requirements would apply to uses above that and below the base plane. An additional story—a total of three above the base plane—would be exempt for lots located within a half mile of a rail station or a quarter-mile of a High-Frequency Transit Corridor (HFTC). Eight HFTCs are described in the draft, including the entire length of Colfax, East 12th from Broadway east to Colorado (excluding Cheesman Park), Broadway from East 20th south to the city’s edge, Lincoln from Colfax south to East Ohio, Colorado Boulevard from East 40th south to Evans and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Downing east to Quebec.
Any parking required under the amendment could be reduced by factors listed under Section 10.4.5.3 of the zoning code, such as affordable housing, proximity to transit, and bike or car sharing.
Existing buildings on small lots would still be exempt from parking requirements.
Steering Committee notes show at the end of the fourth meeting all but two members supported limiting the parking exemption to three stories inside the transit areas and two stories outside. But committee member Bill Vanderlan reported that at the final, fifth meeting he and three other representatives of RNOs withheld their support.
“Insufficient data was provided by CPD to evaluate the actual impact of the preferred plan. Nobody wants to approve a plan that can't be substantiated,” Vanderlan said.
“We feel like there needs to be at a minimum a zoning proposal information notice (ZPIN) so neighborhoods are informed about proposed projects requesting exemptions similar to what is already in the zoning code when a 25 percent reduction in parking is requested,” he added.
Vanderlan said he and the three others did not agree with the definitions of the “transit shed,” which he said was already defined in the code, and he and the other representatives opposed would continue to challenge the adoption of the plan.
The proposal was posted on CPD’s website on Jan. 3, and notices were sent to RNOs. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing and make recommendations on Feb. 1. It then goes to a council committee on Feb. 14, a first reading before council on Feb. 20 and public hearing and vote on March 20.
For updates on the text amendment process and timetable, visit denvergov.org.