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The Denver City Hall building.

The Denver City Council approved three bills Monday regarding applications for common consumption areas, granting the city auditor subpoena power and designating the Channel 7 building as a landmark, moving the bills to final consideration.

All three of the bills were passed unanimously and will now have to pass a final full City Council vote next Monday before implementation.

Common consumption areas

If passed next week, the bill will open applications for Denver’s common consumption pilot program on June 1, 45 days sooner than currently planned.

The five-year pilot will allow businesses to establish areas where customers can mingle outdoors and walk between businesses with alcoholic beverages. Today's city rules require patrons to finish drinks before leaving a venue.

“We’re hoping we can kick off this pilot program … as a way to reactivate some community spaces safely and thoughtfully and provide the businesses within our neighborhoods the opportunity to use this tool,” said Erica Rogers with the Department of Excise and Licenses.

While the common consumption pilot program was approved in 2019, Excise and Licenses didn't finish the rulemaking process until April because of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Areas will need to be approved by City Council and will be limited to no larger than 100 acres. Potential locations are the Dairy Block, McGregor Square, Larimer Square, the Santa Fe Arts District and the Great Hall at Denver International Airport.

Licenses for regular common consumption areas will last a year and be renewable annually. Temporary licenses will be available for events, lasting 15 days.

Rogers said it will take the typical applicant three to four months to get through the licensure process once they apply. The process includes application submission, agency review, public hearing, city council review and inspections by multiple agencies.

Auditor subpoena power

The bill would grant the city auditor subpoena power – the ability to demand a person or entity provide documents, information or testimony – when conducting internal audits, investigations and enforcement of minimum-wage rules.

Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien said subpoena power would allow him to efficiently and effectively do his job; in recent years, he said, some third-party entities who contract with the city have refused to provide documents and information for him to perform audits.

In addition, after the passage of Denver’s minimum-wage law in 2019, the type and amount of necessary information the auditor requires has increased, O'Brien said. 

Councilman Kevin Flynn said Monday he intended to vote no on the bill but voted yes because O’Brien agreed to discuss concerns with him before next week’s final vote. Flynn said subpoena power might not be necessary to enforce access to information, a perspective shared by some other council members.

“This bill has already been to the finance and governance committee three times and I think it’s pretty significant that there’s still some uneasiness about it,” Councilwoman Kendra Black said.

City Attorney Frank Romines said the bill does not expand access to information, but provides the auditor access to information already allowed under law when it is not provided. Romines said he has seen the auditor be denied information that he should have legal access to in the last few years.

Under the proposal, the auditor could issue subpoenas if a written request for records or testimony has not been  met after 15 days or more. The person or entity being subpoenaed would have another 15 days to comply.

Channel 7 building landmark designation

The bill would designate Channel 7’s building at 123 E. Speer Blvd. as a city landmark, preventing the sale of the property to a development company that wants to build multifamily housing there, according to documents filed with the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission.

The landmark designation would also prevent Channel 7 from making any security improvements to the ground floor of the 51-year-old building or moving satellites attached to the building without LPC's approval.

KMGH-Channel 7 applied for a certificate of non-historic status in December, so the building could be razed after being sold to a developer. But in January, three Denver residents filed a notice with the LPC that they think the building deserves landmark status.

Scripps Media, the station’s owner, said it couldn’t find a potential buyer that didn’t want to demolish the building. The station has signed a letter of intent with New York-based developer Property Markets Group.

Kara Hahn, principal city planner, said the LPC thinks the building meets qualifications for landmark designation because it is more than 30 years old, has sound structural integrity and is a strong example of the brutalist architecture style and architect Fulmer & Bowers’ work.

Councilman Chris Hinds, who represents District 10 where the building is, said attorneys instructed him to wait until next Monday’s public hearing to learn about the topic and only use facts presented there to make his decision, but said he hopes the parties find a compromise.

Flynn added that, during the public hearing, he wants to hear about the possibility that landmark designation would impose financial restrictions on Channel 7 since they wouldn’t be able to sell the building.