Denver’s downtown Golden Triangle has new zoning and building design standards intended to diversify the area’s real estate profile and increase the amount of income-restricted housing.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday in favor of new standards that increase maximum building heights in an effort to incentivize the addition of more income-restricted units.
The Golden Triangle’s zoning guidelines had not changed since 1994 and design guidelines were last updated in 2002. The city’s Community Planning and Development Department officials said Denver is changing and the building plans in the area needed to be updated.
“I think that this is an area right next to the urban core,” Councilman Chris Hinds, who represents the Golden Triangle, said during Monday’s meeting. “It is important for us to think about how we can create housing density but also create economic strength and vibrancy with all of the creative and other businesses in the neighborhood.”
The old zoning allowed buildings of 200 feet or shorter, but the new plan will allow for buildings of 250 feet, if they incorporate income-restricted housing. They can also get a density bonus if they restore a historic landmark, but only after developers satisfy the income-restricted housing requirement.
The same standards apply to “point towers,” which are thinner and can be built up to 325 feet if the conditions are met.
Kristofer Johnson, a city planner, said there could be up to 40 structures or sites within the Golden Triangle that are eligible for landmark designation.
To qualify for the affordable housing “floor area ratio” credits to build higher, developers must incorporate a certain number of units, depending on the building’s size, that can be rented to people making up to 60 percent of the area median income, or sold to those making up to 80 percent.
The city in the past has defined affordable housing as available to people making less than 80 percent of the area median income.
“This, combined with increased incentives for developers to implement projects with affordable housing components, will create affordability in a neighborhood which hasn’t built meaningful, affordable housing so far in this millennium,” Hinds said.
Commercial and mixed-use buildings that do not provide cheaper housing will be subject to fees, depending on the size of the proposed building, to reach the maximum floor area ratio. Those fees will be put into the city’s affordable housing fund.
New buildings less than 200 feet tall would not need to incorporate income-restricted units.
That said, Denver’s approach to affordable housing may change in the near future, thanks to passage this spring of state legislation that lets municipalities mandate developers incorporate income-restricted units. The Golden Triangle update does not incorporate changes allowed from that legislation, and the city is still determining how it will take advantage of the law.
The measure passed Monday also eliminated parking requirements for the Golden Triangle, city officials said, to dissuade developers from building more parking structures in the area and to encourage shared facilities.
The old Golden Triangle plan had no building design standards, but the new zoning will have various standards and require some shaping on the upper stories.
The zoning and building standards also now have greater requirements for “window transparency, a mix of active uses and setbacks for residential units at the street level,” according to city documents.
The zoning change encourages developers to make contributions to public art where creating active uses, like creating more room for pedestrian activity, is not possible.
The organization Neighbors for Greater Capitol Hill has concerns that the new zoning standards would allow new development to impede their views of the mountain range from Cheesman Park, but Denver city officials said the district is low enough in elevation to where the buildings would not block their views of the mountains.
Caroline Schomp, vice president of NGCH, said the group is not planning to appeal the council’s decision to change the Golden Triangle’s zoning provisions.
“We’re particularly concerned about the southern end of the Golden Triangle because you build a tall building there and you totally lose (the view of) Mount Evans,” Schomp told BusinessDen. “The trade-off is developers can make more money and the rest of us are out of luck.”
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