Construction continues at The Arbory condominium project on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Denver, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)

Denver City Council voted to move all three bills related to the city’s Expanding Housing Affordability guidelines to a final vote after some debate around parking exemptions for affordable housing builders.

Should the bills — which propose amendments to Denver Revised Municipal Code, the city’s zoning code and legislative mapping — pass a second vote after a required public hearing on June 6, the program would ensure developers create affordable units along with market rate condos and apartments. The proposal comes after a change in state law put inclusionary zoning back into local government’s hands.

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The guidelines would allow builders to either build more affordably priced units as part of any construction or pay a fee to offset construction of affordable units elsewhere. Builders in higher priced markets such as downtown and Cherry Creek would be required to build more affordably priced units or pay higher fees than builders in lower priced areas.

To comply, new units would need to be priced to fit the budget of a tenant or buyer below the area’s median income. The guidelines would require that 8% of a project’s units be priced at 60% of AMI for apartments and 80% of AMI for ownership units. Builders can price units closer to market price in exchange for building 12% of their units as affordable.

Council member Amanda Sandoval proposed an amendment removing a requirement for parking if a new affordable housing project is within a quarter mile of a high-capacity or medium-capacity transit corridor. She said this would allow builders to create additional units to house people rather than cars.

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On Monday night, council member Amanda Sawyer proposed an amendment that would require 0.1 parking spots per unit as opposed to removing a requirement for parking entirely. While two of her colleagues supported the amendment, it ultimately failed with the rest of council voting it down.

Sandoval said Monday night that building two parking spaces would take up roughly 650 to 700 square feet, which she said could also hold a two-bedroom condo to house people.

“I find it interesting that we’re having a conversation about not supporting building more housing. We just had a whole entire conversation from people from public comment who were telling us to build more housing,” Sandoval said. “… I prefer to spend money and I prefer to give incentives to developers to not house cars and to house people, and that’s what this amendment is doing along certain areas where the city and county of Denver is also putting money and dollars to get better transit along our city.”

Sawyer told The Denver Gazette that she wouldn’t have proposed the amendment if she didn’t think it was a better option, and while she’s disappointed it didn’t pass, she said that’s just how the legislative process goes.

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“There's all different kinds of responses to this, from ‘I'm never developing in Denver again’ to ‘This is not charging the developers enough,’” Sawyer said. “I say often in this business when you reach a point where no one is 100% happy, you've probably hit the right spot, and I think that’s where we are right now.” 

Council member Candi CdeBaca said she would propose amendments on the bills when it goes to a final reading and that she already sent information on it to all of her colleagues on council. Council won’t vote on the guidelines again until after its required public hearing at the June 6 council meeting.

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