Denver is growing, and the next 20 years will be crucial in determining how well (or how poorly) the city manages that growth. To that end, on Monday evening Denver City Council passed Blueprint Denver, a plan three years in the making that outlines policies for shaping and directing the city’s future, with particular consideration given to transit and housing goals. Council members approved the plan 10 to 2, with Council members Kevin Flynn and Rafael Espinoza dissenting. Council member Debbie Ortega was absent.
Blueprint Denver is a supplement to Denver’s Comprehensive Plan 2040, which was also passed by City Council Monday night. Key details of the Comprehensive Plan focus on historic preservation of neighborhoods as the city continues to grow, and include an emphasis on planning for climate change in terms of water conservation, emergency planning, and more. Sarah Showalter, citywide planning supervisor with the City and County of Denver, told City Council that the most important aspect of Denver’s Comprehensive Plan 2040, and the part on which they received the most community feedback, was the “equitable, affordable, and inclusive” aspect. This refers to “the ability for everyone who wants to live here to do so,” Showalter said Monday night.
Blueprint Denver, which was put together under Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration as an update to a 2002 version of the same plan, makes policy recommendations related to land use, transportation, design, and growth. It is important to note that Blueprint Denver is not regulatory in nature; it is meant as a guide for community members and the local government to use in making decisions during the next 20 years.
The most notable policy updates from the sizable document (it totals 300 pages) include recommendations that allow for more density—in the form of affordable housing options such as Accessory Dwelling Units (such as converted garages and tiny homes) and duplexes—which are meant to reduce gentrification by increasing the housing options in neighborhoods that are currently dominated by single family homes, which are cost-prohibitive to many Denverites.
Blueprint Denver also includes recommendations for concentrating growth around transit centers, and developing a “multimodal” transportation system that prioritizes bicyclists and pedestrians over solo drivers. Historic preservation was another big aspect of the plan. It addressed redeveloping historic buildings and incorporating new development into neighborhoods with an eye toward “reflecting what makes [the neighborhoods] so unique,” said Showalter. Additionally, it recommends requiring developers to include affordable housing options in new buildings.
Compiling the policy recommendations in Blueprint Denver involved soliciting community feedback at 20 public meetings and receiving 25,000 pieces of input from community members. Blueprint Denver also underwent a review process by an equity subcommittee, which looked at the plan through the lens of institutionalized racism. To that end, Blueprint Denver makes reference to preventing involuntary displacement, which refers to the inability of (often longtime) residents and businesses to stay in a particular neighborhood as it undergoes gentrification and sees property values rise. It includes a section that measures the vulnerability of different neighborhoods to involuntary displacement, with the intention of using that information to guide policy decisions and investments going forward.
Fifty-eight people signed up to speak about Blueprint Denver during the comment period of Monday evening’s City Council meeting, including Kimball Crangle, co-chair of the task force that guided the development of the plan. Crangle highlighted Blueprint Denver’s emphasis on “guiding growth through the lens of social equity.” Most community members spoke in favor of the plan, though some argued the plan lacks economic and budgetary guidelines about how to actually implement the policy recommendations.
Others expressed concerns that adding more density would harm the character of neighborhoods. Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC), which is comprised of 85 neighborhood organizations, was collectively in favor of postponing the vote on Blueprint Denver until the new City Council took office post-election. At Monday’s Council meeting, Christine O’Connor, a member of the INC, criticized Blueprint Denver for including “no discussion of how much growth we can tolerate…and whether it’s sustainable.”
Council member Kevin Flynn, representing Southwest Denver, dissented on the majority decision to adopt Blueprint Denver, as well as the Comprehensive Plan 2040. He said his district—District 2, which includes Harvey Park, Marston, and Fort Logan—has a higher percentage of households of color than are represented in the city as a whole, and described it as “where people go when they’re gentrified out of other neighborhoods.” He mentioned Highland and Sloan’s Lake as examples of areas where adding density increased the effects of gentrification, and said constituents he spoke to in his district were anxious that the plan could lead to the kind of “unpopular change that has disrupted some other parts of town.” Flynn added that Accessory Dwelling Units, which might be appropriate in more urban areas, especially where they have alley access, “do not fit well into suburban contexts.”
Sarah Senderhauf, a local real estate broker who herself lives in an Accessory Dwelling Unit and whose company has built 10 of them, spoke about the merits of this type of alternative to single family homes. “ADUs allow us to have a more inclusive neighborhood,” she said. “They allow more people to be there.” Senderhauf also challenged the notion, expressed by some other community members, that renters care less about maintaining their homes and cause property values to decrease.
Blueprint Denver, the full text of which can be read here, is at the heart of Mayor Hancock’s Denveright plan, which contains recommendations for how Denver leaders should think about the city’s growth going forward. It acknowledges that growth is happening and will continue to happen, and overall it is a pro-inclusion plan, despite the very real challenges that come with that outlook. “We must continue to foster all people’s choice to live in Denver,” the plan reads.