If, as Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local,” then Denver’s neighborhood associations are how local residents can best shape their own political landscapes.
According to the Denver Municipal Code, Registered Neighborhood Organizations (RNOs), are voluntary groups formed by residents, businesses and property owners within a neighborhood, who meet at least once a year and are registered with Denver’s Community Planning and Development Department. Their purpose, according to Neighborhood Liaison Michael Sapp, is to “facilitate conversation between the neighborhoods, developers and city planning and development, so that … community voices are being heard.”
The Code requires that neighborhood associations represent all the residents and businesses within their borders. The meetings are open to the public and any member can vote on the issues raised. At a recent meeting of the Baker Historic Neighborhood Association (BHNA), the fifty-plus attendees included homeowners, property owners, renters and merchants. Associations are required to meet once a year, but many meet more often. All are required to notify residents of the time and place of each meeting.
Many neighborhood associations sponsor a variety of events, such as neighborhood picnics and happy hours, alley clean-up days, historic walks and home tours. At the May Baker meeting, the packed agenda covered upcoming events, a crime report and advice on how to prevent thefts from your garage, a reminiscence about a local cobbler who repaired President Eisenhower’s waders, a decision to send flowers to a sick neighbor and presentations on the Platte River recovery and the I-25 and Broadway redevelopment.
All of the 170 or so Denver Registered Neighborhood Organizations belong to Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC), an umbrella non-profit that has committees that meet about once a month with the city’s major departments, such as Transportation and Zoning. Neighborhoods can send representatives to any INC meeting to discuss concerns that cross over neighborhood lines, or receive training in administrative procedures. For instance, the Baker association voted to send a representative to an INC training session about liquor licensing, to learn how to formulate their arguments in opposition to a new liquor store on South Broadway. “I’ve been encouraging our people to get involved with INC,” says Baker President Luchia Brown, “We’d like to see younger, newer people bringing a new perspective.”
The wheels of government grind slowly, so getting a neighborhood concern from the neighborhood organization to a change in city policy is a long process. A good example began about seven months ago with an association resident’s complaint against a short-term renter. The association, perceiving that the complaint was a city-wide problem, passed its recommendations on to INC’s zoning and planning committee, which solicited information from other stakeholders and passed modified recommendations on to the City Council. The council is currently taking public comment on its recommendations to prohibit absentee landlords from making short term rentals, but to allow resident homeowners to do so, as long as other zoning and business requirements are upheld. The process is ongoing at this writing, but a solution is in sight.
According to a City Council aide, council members met with several neighborhood organizations and merchants groups to develop a parking plan for South Broadway, which was then passed on to the city’s Public Works department. More recently, Washington Park went through a similar collaborative process to finalize its new regulations concerning park use.
Neighborhood associations are a high priority for Mayor Hancock. Beyond his core role, Sapp prefers to see his role as acting for the mayor “as a conduit for issues and opportunities between the city and the neighborhoods.”
Michael Sapp can be contacted at Michael.Sapp@denvergov.org.
Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation’s website: denverinc.org