Downtown Denver

Clouds hang over the skyline of downtown Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, in Denver. 

The high-handed elitism of Denver’s City Council in forcing so-called “group living” on Denver homeowners earlier this year would be reason enough to vote YES on Question 2F on this fall’s municipal ballot. Voting to repeal the reckless policy, as the citizen-initiated 2F would do, is a vote for holding City Hall accountable to the public.

Yet, there are even more pressing reasons to vote YES on 2F. The group-living scheme — driven by a narrow ideology and shoehorned into the city’s zoning code without any popular support — will wreck Denver’s neighborhoods sooner or later.

The policy adopted by the council in February sextupled the area of the city where homeless shelters and halfway houses may open. It scrapped a buffer between Denver’s schools and halfway houses. It permitted up to five unrelated residents/tenants in any single-family home. The council followed up in April by also applying part of the new policy — the part allowing five unrelated adults to a house — to the remaining minority of Denver neighborhoods that were still under the old, so-called “Chapter 59” zoning.

Unless 2F passes, all of the city now can look forward to more cars and trash cans lining the curbs of once-quiet residential streets. More overall noise and congestion, as well. What was once a next-door neighbor’s single-family home on a quiet cul de sac could become a de facto apartment complex — without any of the infrastructure to support it.

In the majority of the city that will bear the full brunt of the zoning changes, it will mean a homeless shelter or even a halfway house could open in a strip mall near your house. It could be next to day cares, schools, rec centers.

There’s no core constituency for any of that. This abuse of the city’s zoning code wasn’t implemented following a call to action by some broad-based citizens group. Nor was it the recommendation of some committee of experts. It was merely the daydream of a roomful of urban visionaries in the planning department at City Hall. It was handed off to the council and then imposed upon the public.

The City Council steamrolled the public and set the stage for bulldozing Denver’s quality of life — and they never looked back. Those council members who bothered to explain their vote touted it as a stride for equity — that contemporary catch-all for dubious policy — but they never really explained what they meant by that. Probably, even they don’t know.

As if all that weren’t objectionable enough, consider the even broader implications of the city’s group-living mandate: It is a precedent for shutting the public out of zoning decisions in general. Longtime homeowners — long valued by local governments as the linchpins who bring cohesion to neighborhoods and stability to a community — are now being swatted aside. They are being treated as pesky annoyances who obstruct City Hall’s grand vision for reinventing communities — whether the residents of those communities like it or not.

Underlying such smug indifference to popular sentiments is a misplaced and shortsighted idealism among urban planners seeking to redesign the cityscape in pursuit of social equity, climate justice and other nebulous goals. And they are willing to elbow the public out of the way to achieve those aims.

Outraged Denverites launched a successful petition drive last spring to place the new policy on this November’s ballot so voters have a chance to overturn it. The effort was organized by the upstart citizens group Safe and Sound Denver, whose website — https://www.safeandsounddenver.com — offers extensive background on the issue. You also can sign up for the group’s e-newsletter.

Safe and Sound’s petition drive wound up netting twice as many signatures as needed at grassroots gatherings that the group hosted throughout Denver. The outpouring of support represents a groundswell by everyday Denverites who are telling City Hall, “You don’t own our community — we all do. And we all have a stake in our quality of life.”

A YES vote for 2F will help save that quality of life so we can pass it on to the next generation. Don’t we all want to leave them a city they will want to live in?

Stay tuned for our take on the rest of Denver’s municipal ballot over the next several days. We will publish a summary of our stands on state and local ballot issues on Tuesday, Oct. 19.