07 October 2008

Don't Down Zone West Washington Park

In A Nutshell

City Councilman Chris Nevitt, and the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association want to down zone the part of West Washington Park bounded by Downing, Cedar, Clarkson and Mississippi from R-2 (duplexes and other small multi-family units permitted) to R-1 (single family detached housing). They also want to place a moratorium on "assemblage" (i.e. buying adjacent lots previously in separate ownership with an eye towards merging them into a multi-lot project like Cherry Creek/South Platte Valley row houses), in the rest of the West Washington Park area zoned R-2.

There is a public meeting on the topic at on Wednesday, October 8, 2008 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Denver Community Church, at 1101 S. Washington Street in Denver.

I oppose the plan.

Contrary to proponent's claims, the neighborhood does not have a "single family character," even in the area targeted for R-1 zoning. I do not believe that multi-unit housing development in the neighborhood is undermining the neighborhood character that is driving new development. It isn't accurate to say that the neighborhood even has some well defined historic character, because the construction in the neighborhood spans every major period in Denver's architectural history -- the larger pattern is one of continuous gradual change, not fidelity to any particular idealized historic template.

Contrary to the proponent's claims, zoning changes will not give West Washington Park the kind of housing values that neighborhoods zoned single family that actually have a single family character enjoy, and indeed, zoning changes will probably reduce housing values by making the neighborhood more stagnant, discouraging families from moving into the neighborhood, and depriving existing owners of the portion of their home value attributable to development value. Home owners with big lots and ugly existing houses will suffer the most from the change.

Proponents of the change argue that the character of the neighborhood is at risk despite their admission that "most property owners are already barred from pursuing any multi-unit development" because they have lot sizes of under 6,000 square feet.

Proponents argue that not "re-using" existing homes is an environmental waste, but don't do anything in their proposals to limit single family home scrape-offs or the fact that many building materials in homes that are scraped off are salvaged and reused, especially these days where pre-used brick and scrap metal are in demand. They also understate the environmental importance of homes that are more energy efficient than existing housing stock (many homes in West Washington Park, including my own, have a brick construction with no insulation whatsoever), and the environmental importance of reduced commuting, while completely ignoring the environmental importance of that fact that infill development in West Washington Park eliminates the need to build new infrastructure elsewhere.

Proponents also claim that owners of existing housing will enjoy the same rights as their neighbors to improve or expand their property, although no multi-plexes will be built, while failing to acknowledge that the plan also bans conversion of single family homes to allow multi-family occupancy (for example by renovating homes to make a basement rental unit viable).

This is a case of NIMBY reactions by a tiny but vocal and committed group of people opposed to change simply because it is change, against land uses that no one should serious oppose having in their own backyard, at least in West Washington Park, where everything goes in the way of existing architecture and some people even have astroturf lawns.

My Credentials

For many years (long before I became the neighborhood's self-appointed prophet), I have been one of the Democratic party precinct committee person for Denver's precinct 302.

Precinct 302 is bounded on the North by Cedar, on the South by Center, on the East by Downing, and on the West by Clarkson. It zigs and zags slightly, but roughly speaking, Precinct 302 is home to the northern half of the area that City Councilman Chris Nevitt and the West Washington Park Neighborhood Associate would like to down zone from R-2 (predominantly single family homes and duplexes, but also uses like basement apartments), to R-1 (single family detached homes).

One of the jobs of a precinct committee person is to help run the precinct caucus. More than a hundred of my neighbors joined me for a meeting in the gymnasium of Lincoln Elementary School earlier this year, where had our say on who we thought the Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party should be in 2008, a first step in a process that ended at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver this summer.

The less visible job of a precinct committee person is to walk the precinct several times every couple of years, "dropping literature" in the precinct. My most recent literature drop took place last week. I dropped literature at every single address in the precinct (except those that had "no fliers" signs, of course) urging residents to register to vote and explaining how to obtain a mail in ballot.

In the humble job of precinct committee person you develop a strong professional interest in "extra" mailboxes and addresses, because those are the people who are most likely to need to register to vote.

I'm not a very athletic person and I'm not a member of a gym, but the one form of exercise I do get is to go on walks around the neighborhood. I routinely walk all of the territory represented by the West Washington Park neighborhood association, and most of the Washington Park neighborhood on the other side of Washington Park. I don't claim that as a mere precinct committee person that I represent the people of Precinct 302, but I do know the neighborhood very well.

I've walked up and down every block of the proposed rezone area time and time again.

West Washington Park Is Not A Detched Single Family Home Neighborhood

What I can tell you from my experience is that City Councilman Chris Nevitt and the West Washington Park neighborhood association are inaccurate when they describe my precinct and my neighborhood as having a "single-family character." It doesn't.

There are neighborhoods in Denver that have a single family character. Washington Park proper on the other side of Washington Park, which is another of my favorite walking haunts, has a single family character. So do Bonnie Brae, Belcaro, Cory-Merrill, Wellshire and a whole lot of neighborhoods in between. But, West Washington Park doesn't, and never has had a single family character. West Washington Park has had an integrated mix of single family homes and duplexes from its inception more than a hundred years ago, when West Washington Park was a street car suburb, and has continued to have an integrated mix of single family homes and duplexes ever since then.

What distinguishes West Washington Park, in general, and Precinct 302 and its neighbors in the proposed R-1 zoned area to the South from single family character neighborhoods? Duplexes and other multi-family housing. Lots of them that are absent in real single family neighborhoods.

There is not a single block in all of Precinct 302, or for that matter, the entire proposed R-1 zoned area, that does not have a duplex on it. In addition to duplexes, there are many other multi-family housing arrangements in the neighborhood which are impermissible under R-1 zoning. Many houses have basement or "garden level" apartments, and not just the small houses. One of the most impressive old mansions on Downing Street is a recently divided two unit building. There are also quite a few granny flats in the neighborhood (in fairness, they are grandfathered and not permitted under current R-2 zoning either). There are also quite a few houses that look like single family detached dwellings on the outside, that have several mailboxes because they are home to multiple households.

My own half duplex was built in 1925. My two next door neighbors, and their two next door neighbors in turn live in half duplexes built in the 21st century. The building to the north of them is a pre-Great Depression duplex, as is the building to the north of it. The other half of my half duplex has an upstairs and downstairs household. My neighbor to the south has a single family residence and a granny flat. The house of the south corner of my block is a duplex. The house on the north corner of my block has a garden level apartment. In short, there are at least seven multi-family housing units on my side of the street on my block (in the heart of the proposed R-1 zoned area) alone, and only two of them are new housing.

The are two duplexes on the other side of the street that also pre-date the Great Depression. And, both sides of the street have pop tops so dramatic that they are scrapes in all but name.

Multi-unit dwellings in West Washington Park come from every architectural era. Some come from the several decades from the establishment of the neighborhood until the Great Depression: some mimic Denver Squares, some are bungalows, some are single story Spanish style buildings (complete with stucco), some were originally meant to be shops and have been remodeled. There was very little construction in the neighborhood in West Washington Park (or anywhere in the United States) during the Great Depression and World War II. There are duplexes and other small multi-family structures in West Washington Park from the 1950s, the 1960s (including at least one or two in the Frank Lloyd Wright style), the 1970s (complete with Earth tones and skylights), the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 21st century. Some are modern, some are traditional. Examples of each of these can be found in the proposed down zoned areas.

One multi-family unit in the affected area at Corona Street and Virginia is neo-colonial. It abuts another that has sometimes been used as a multi-family dwelling which was a Speakeasy during prohibition on Ogden Street. Half a block down on Ogden Street from that residence, is a lovely traditional brick mini-mansion on a hill with a tidy little garden level apartment.

Or, consider Dakota Street in the proposed down zone area from Downing to Emerson. This little three block stretch has no less than four houses with basement apartments, a large pair of 1970s duplexes, and a several lot complex of 1980s multi-unit dwellings.

Of course, the South Speer Neighborhood is predominantly apartment buildings (many of which have since converted to condominiums), as is a good share of West Washington Park between Logan and Lincoln. It shares that character with Capitol Hill, much of Colorado Boulevard from Colfax to North Cherry Street, and the City of Glendale.

The Economics Of Scrapes

One of the main reasons that West Washington Park has some of the oldest and most historic buildings in the City of Denver is because it has so many duplexes. Duplexes are less often scraped or pop topped than the old single family homes, with not many square feet, often in bad condition on large lots which have tended to be scraped across the city.

This is partially because the ratio of building value (which is a dead weight loss to a scrape developer) to land value is generally lower in a detached single family home. It is also because many duplexes are no longer under common ownership, and it is harder to get multiple owners to agree to sell out, than it is to buy from a single property owner who is selling anyway.

Also, few West Washington Park homes, even single family homes, have an abundance of land. Many are closer to each other than existing setback requirements permit. I get by on a 1/15th of an acre (one city lot, more or less) and a single SUV for my family. Many residences in the neighborhood are built on just one or two lots. A relatively small number are built on three lots, and the smallest, most rundown homes with three city lots have been the most attractive to scrape developers. The "dirt value" of a city lot in West Washington Park is currently about $100,000-$150,000, and it takes two or three city lots to build a typical modern multi-family residence. Few single family homes on two lots can be had for less than $200,000-$3000,000 in West Washington Park, and finding a single family home on three lots to scrape for $300,000 to $450,000 or less is increasingly challenging, particularly as the "as built" value of existing single homes has been pumped up with renovations.

West Washington Park Is Not The Next Cherry Creek

The most commonly expressed fear I hear from West Washington Park residence about development is that West Washington Park will become the next Cherry Creek. My first instinct in response to this is "what's wrong with Cherry Creek?" Cherry Creek may have a predominantly townhouse, duplex and row house character, with a sprinkling of large single family homes and apartment buildings thrown in, but they aren't shabby. The cheapest fetch $600,000, and $1,000,000+ is more typical. Bromwell, the neighborhood school in Cherry Creek, is more sought after by parents than any other elementary school in Denver. Neighborhood shopping is vibrant, and its quiet streets are neither deserted nor noisy.

Cherry Creek certain has transformed dramatically from the character it had in the 1950s, when it had predominantly small, rather ill built, detached single family homes on large lots. Proximity to a new mall, a central location, and the low economic value of the existing housing stock made it an obvious location for infill development, which revitalized the neighborhood and turned it into a highly sought after gem of the city. City boosters may call Colfax Avenue Denver's main street, but, in character, Denver's real main street is 1st Avenue running through the Cherry Creek neighborhood.

For better or for worse, West Washington Park is not going to become the next Cherry Creek.

The cost of acquiring homes to scrape and replace with new construction is much higher than it was in Cherry Creek. The single family homes that it makes the most economic sense to scrape and replace with duplexes have mostly already been scraped. In the increasingly common case where both halves of a duplex are owned by different people who have a party wall agreement, like my own half-duplex and almost all newly constructed duplexes, the agreement of both owners would be required.

Another thing that made the development we have seen so far possible in the early 21st century was the easy credit made available to developers and prospective home owners. This easy credit was possible because of a flood of money available for mortgages in the market place. There was a lot of money to lend because of the invention of mortgage backed securities. The days of mortgage backed security supplied private investment in housing development is over, however. The market's appetite for investments in mortgage backed securities has dried up to the point that the only way banks can get these toxic assets off their balance sheets is for the federal government to set out to buy more than $700 billion of them for more than they are worth. Without the mortgage back security based flood of money into the real estate market, construction has dried up and the scrape off trend is likely to slow down dramatically in the years to come.

Other neighborhoods in Denver that have seen dramatic wholesale transformation have, like pre-transformation Cherry Creek, had very low property values. LoDo used to be Denver's skid row and was home to many of its flophouses -- Mayor Hickenlooper mostly made his fortune by joining the elite group that invested in turning that neighborhood around. The Platte Valley was a rail yard with an industrial character before it became the neighborhood of high end apartment towers and stylist row houses that it is today. The Coors Field neighborhood now known for its upscale condominiums close to downtown (formerly simply a part of the Five Points Neighborhood) and the gentrified area known as Uptown (formerly known as North Capitol Hill) were both notorious for being among the highest crime neighborhoods in the city, year after year. Stapleton, Lowry and the Gates Rubber Plant all literally had toxic waste issues as a result of their prior uses as airports and as a factory respectively. The Highlands neighborhood saw almost all of the community of people who built the homes and churches there move out of the neighborhood to be replaced by lower income immigrant communities before gentrification took hold there. The neighborhood now known as the Golden Triangle south of Civic Center was more of an abandoned wasteland between downtown and the city's nicer neighborhoods before it took off.

Fear of radical change through real estate development in West Washington Park is misplaced, because the neighborhood isn't appropriate from a developer's point of view for that kind of investment. Radical transformation doesn't happen to neighborhoods on the brink between being comfortably middle class and definitively upper middle class like West Washington Park. The neighborhoods that radical change begins in have generally come close to hitting bottom before innovative bargain hunting developers come in and make big bets on their ability to transform the neighborhood.

The next Cherry Creek is far more likely to be in Lincoln Park, a low income neighborhood with mostly dilapidated housing stock and a large quantity of public housing adjacent to the Auraria Campus and downtown, or Southwest Denver, which has been left out of the boom that has lifted real estate prices in much of the rest of the city, than it is to be in West Washington Park, where the cost of land is much higher and commercial development is more distant.

West Washington Park Will Never Be East Washington Park

Proponents of down zoning argue that East Washington Park homes command higher prices per square foot than West Washington Park because East Washington Park is zoned exclusively for single-family homes (R-1), while West Washington Park is predominantly zoned for multi-unit Structure (R-2). There is truth in this, but re-zoning West Washington Park won't change that reality.

West Washington Park was mostly developed before modern zoning was invented. East Washington Park was one of first neighborhoods in Denver most developed after Denver adopted "modern" Euclidian zoning.

The current trend powered by the New Urbanist movement is to adopt "post-modern" land use practices the reject the widely acknowledge inadequacies and negative side effects of old fashioned Euclidian zoning, but the proposed down zoning of West Washington Park adopts none of these innovations, even though the City of Denver is adopted innovative approaches like "form based," "Main Street zoning" on East Colfax and is seriously considering it in other neighborhoods. Also, notably, many of the problems associated with scrape offs have already been addressed by Denver's city council with a more innovative and modern "form based zoning" solution better tailored perceived problems with the scale of the new construction in an ordinance known as "Quick Wins II." Quick Wins II limited the scale of new single and multi-family infill housing and established principles that favored design choices like the detached rear loading garages common in Denver's established neighborhoods.

East Washington Park is a fully built out single family detached home neighborhood, which has considerably newer construction than West Washington Park. Except for the part of East Washington Park near Veteran's Park and South High School, which is built on a former landfill, East Washington Park homes are also larger and built at a higher trim level because they were built for affluent late 20th century families. In contrast, West Washington Park is much older (on average) neighborhood with smaller homes built at a lower trim level because they were built for less affluent working and middle class families often in the late 19th or early 20th century. West Washington Park is also fully built out.

This horse is already out of the barn, and no amount of tinkering with zoning will give West Washington Park the large, high end, single family detached home character (and price per square foot that goes with these homes) that the leaders of the West Washington Park neighborhood association apparently aspire to share.

People buying real estate are short sighted. The average person lives in a house for ten years, and West Washington Park probably has more turnover than an average neighborhood, because many families start out in the neighborhood only to move out when their children reach middle school or high school age. I've seen many families move into and then out of my block in the eight years I've lived in my home.

As a result, what matters to people buying real estate, and hence to real estate values, is the current mix of homes in the neighborhood, not the zoning of the neighborhood. Zoning is particularly irrelevant in an already built out neighborhood where large numbers of non-conforming uses are grandfathered in, and new development is likely to be sporadic and gradual.

Re-zoning might cause new scrapes in West Washington Park to take the form of the $1,200,000+ mini-mansions common in East Washington Park and Hilltop, that are currently relatively less common (although certainly not absent from) West Washington Park, rather than the $600,000 per unit duplexes that have been most popular in West Washington Park in the last decade or so. After all, there are only so many old East Washington Park homes left to scrape. But, there is no compelling social virtue in adopting zoning regulations that require homes to be targeted a families much more affluent than the typically existing family in the neighborhood (i.e. families who can afford $1,200,000+ homes) rather than only modestly more affluent than the typical existing family in the neighborhood (i.e. families who can afford $600,000 half-duplexes).

Infill Is Appropriate In West Washington Park

There are good big picture reasons for favoring the kind of gradual infill development that West Washington Park has seen over recent years, here, rather than elsewhere.

West Washington Park is close to downtown and Cherry Creek, so infill development in West Washington Park, rather than in suburbs, reduces overall commuting which in turn reduces pollution and foreign oil dependence. This is particularly true of the area at the south end of the proposed new R-1 zoning district which is within easy walking distance of a new light rail station that provides easy access to both downtown Denver and the Denver Tech Center.

Much of West Washington Park is served by Lincoln Elementary School. This Denver Public School is one of the top ten in the city in terms of the among of academic progress that its students are making longitudinally. But, Lincoln Elementary School is in constant danger of being shut down because it doesn't have enough families to fill its large school building. Only a few elementary schools in the city have a lower occupancy rate, and several of those were recently closed. The families that infill development in the form of new duplexes attract to the neighborhood could save Lincoln Elementary School from shutdown due to underenrollment, improve academic performance at Lincoln Elementary School (because more relatively affluent families in a neighborhood inevitably does that), and improve property values (because good, popular neighborhood schools tend to do that).

One need look no further than West Washington Park's other abandoned DPS school (the massive Beyers School, formerly home to the Denver School of the Arts), and low enrollments in other neighborhood schools (like McKinley-Thatcher) to know that this possibility is very real.

Why should Denver be building new schools (Question 3A in Denver will be asking Denver voters to spend half a billion dollars on new capital improvements, much of it for two new schools in burgeoning far Northeast Denver acquired in connection with the Denver International Airport), when we have perfectly good schools already built which are sitting half empty because there is not enough family friendly housing in central Denver to fill them. Obviously, right now, DPS needs new schools. But, Denver's zoning should encourage development where Denver already has school and other infrastructure in place to serve residents, rather than in places that require new infrastructure to be built from scratch.

Unlike the radical mass scrape off that produced Denver's Auraria campus, infill development in West Washington Park is happening piecemeal. The development is sprinkled more or less evenly throughout the neighborhood, tends to happen only when the owner is moving out anyway, and permits the owner to get a fair price for the home he is selling without the threat of eminent domain intervention. By postponing the natural and gradual replacement of the housing stock with more restrictive zoning, West Washington Park is asking at some future date, for the dam to break as economics ultimately overcome city zoning politics and a pent up demand for scape offs produces truly dramatic change in the neighborhood

Infill development is to a neighborhood what clotting factors are to your blood. The economics of infill development encourage developers to replace the most blighted properties in the neighborhood (which have the lowest building value relative to land value) with residences that are worth more than the average house in the neighborhood due to their larger square footage, higher trim levels (do any scrapeoffs not have granite countertops?), and better state of repair.

WWPNA Does Not Speak For The Neighborhood

According to its most recent newsletter, "close to 100 people" attended the most recent WWPNA annual meeting in April 2008. This sounds great, until you realize that WWPNA has a territory with more than 14,000 people in it. More people came to the Precinct 302 Democratic party precinct caucus in February 2008, despite the fact that Precinct 302 has a far smaller population, and the fact that the caucus, unlike WWPNA, expressly excluded unaffiliated voters and Republicans. And, for the people at the precinict caucus in February, the $600,000 half-duplex threat was no where near the top of anyone's agenda.

The West Washington Park Neighborhood Association has consistently taken a position against all development, all liquor licenses, and all density and traffic in the neighborhood. So, people like myself, good liberals who see their neighborhood as an urban residential neighborhood rather than a suburb, and conservatives, unlike myself, who favor less government regulation of the economy, have given up hope of trying to be a part of this organization. WWPNA even took the lead in an expensive (for the business person who ultimately went out of business in part as a result of the legal fight), and ultimately losing effort to oppose the establishment of a neighborhood coffee shop with patio for customers at Ohio and Emerson for cripes sake.

The combination of new plumbing, integrated single family and multi-family housing in one neighborhood, and funky coffee shops is so attractive to most people in metropolitan Denver that Stapleton's developers have spent tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars pitching it in radio ads and on billboards, in addition to the untold millions they have invested in the land and buildings that feature this kind of development itself. But, the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association seems hell bent on opposing this kind of development in our own neighborhood.

It isn't just newcomers who are attracted to the call of new plumbing, good insulation, and adequate square footage either. Doug Linkhart, now a city councilman at large in Denver, and previously a long time state senator whose district included West Washington Park, succumbed to the lure of new plumbing and more square footage and moved to Stapleton himself once he was no longer required by his political office to stay. Several of my neighbors on the 300 block of Corona Street have done the same thing, even thought they loved West Washington Park and would have preferred to keep their families in this neighborhood if adequate housing stock had been available here.

It isn't that WWPNA is completely out of touch with the area's historical roots. West Washington Park covers much of what was the City of South Denver, before it was annexed by the City of Denver about a century ago. The City of South Denver was developed with the primary purpose of shutting down and/or regulating bars on South Broadway and limiting neighborhood change. But, the change happened anyway, and there are still plenty of rowdy bars on South Broadway.

Good Neighbors

The $5,000 a month mortgage payment paying occupants of West Washington Park's new duplexes are not riff-raff who are going to destroy the neighborhood, send crime skyrocketing, and disturb the peace of existing residents through inattention to landscaping and rowdy keg parties. In fact, while West Washington Park Neighborhood Association President Charlie Busch may cringe at modern stucco homes with two thousand square feet and lower utility bills than most of their neighbors (comments for which he apologized in the October-December 2008 newsletter), he doesn't really get that it is indeed good neighbors, and not aesthetic architectural decisions, that matter.

R-1 zoning would still permit the godawful job of a pop top done across the street from me on my block, turning a $450,000 single family home, into a single family residence worth twice as much, while forbidding the two sets of new duplexes that are to the north of me.

Those new duplexes have allowed four families to live where two single individuals lived before in small single family houses with fewer square feet than half of one of the new half-duplexes. I was on a first name basis with Nancy, who lived alone in one of the homes that was scaped next to mine, but my new neighbors have become integrated parts of our diverse neighborhood as well. I say hello to the lesbian couple three doors down when they hold their big annual party and compliment them on the beautiful flowers in their front lawn, I appreciate it when the accountant who lives next door knocks on mine to let me know that I left my car lights on, and I have enjoyed the opportunities that my children have had to play with the children of the single mom who moved in two doors down.

Gradual infill development is part of what helps keep my neighborhood a vibrant one, instead of a mustry historical relic full of parlors that smell like grandma, and houses that people who live there can't afford to keep up.

Families who can't make their lives fit into the often less than 1000 square feet of existing single family homes, and who can't afford a $1,200,000 house in this fine neighborhood, can get twice as much space as existing housing stock for only slightly more money, in a new duplex, which makes West Washington Park a neighborhood where middle and upper middle class families can manage to live.

Families with kids in West Washington Park, like mine and many of my neighbors, tend to favor more affordable for the space duplexes over detached single family homes. Older residents on fixed incomes also value the extra income that a basement apartment or granny flat brings, which helps them stay in the neighborhood.

I've walked East Washington Park (politically for Andrew Romanoff, and personally, on my neighborhood walks) and I've walked West Washington Park. East Washington Park may not have quite the suburban desolation of Highlands Ranch, but it is still almost hauntingly quiet. West Washington Park has far more activity, and far more neighbors out in their yards where you can meet them and form communities. This is no accident. It is a simple product of the higher residential density of West Washington Park.

Down zoning West Washington Park won't solve the problem of change, which is inevitable and natural, even if there are always some people whom change makes uncomfortable. Indeed, change is the only think that is going to allow West Washington Park to continue in its vibrant state.

You don't have do go far to see what happens when you have restrictive zoning in an area with older housing stock. You don't get East Washington Park. You get Englewood, before it woke up to the need for developments like Cinderalla City, an inner ring suburb stuggling to get by economically. I'd rather live in a more historically authentic, income and housing diverse version of Stapleton, than in a neighborhood choked by single family zoning in a neighborhood that isn't a single family neighborhood.


I've had long talks with Chris Nevitt about zoning and other matters while he campaigned for city council with phone banks run out of my law firm's office, and personally know WWPNA board members Jim Jones and Barry Sarver well. Nobody in this is basically a bad person, and both Mr. Nevitt and the folks at WWPNA mean well. They are acting with civic purpose.

Admittedly, I am somewhat mystified at how WWPNA President Charlie Busch can call the neighborhood one with a "current, predominantly single family home housing mix," but predominant can mean different things to different people and the attitudes shared by the leaders of WWNPA have developed over a long time.

It is the nature of neighborhood associations to be inward looking and to be sensitive to those who complain about change, rather than to those who are happy with the status quo. Those who are unhappy get active to push for change, those who are not, don't notice until there is an overreaction to change.

What is mostly wrong about the approach taken by Mr. Nevitt and WWPNA is that the implicit economic and factual assumptions that form the basis of their proposal to down zone West Washington Park are wrong, as I explained when I began. Zoning that might make sense when something really is a "predominant use" does not make sense when that use is merely a majority use. The way zoning plays out in established, fully built out neighborhoods that are experiencing infill, is not the same as the way zoning plays out in new developments.

Just as it is easy to complain that it is shame that a failed business goes bankrupt, without recognizing the importance of free up societal resources from a money losing venture, it is easy to look at the historic structure lost in a scrapoff while overlooking the benefits that its replacements provide. But, looking at the big picture, a welcoming attitude towards infill is what has kept Denver strong as other housing markets have plummetted, and what has allowed the city proper of Denver to retain a relatively healthy housing economy, while the housing economy in the suburbs has wilted.


Michael Malak said...

As a the 301 Republican precinct chairman (only for Ron Paul -- I'll probably revert to independent after George Lilly, a Ron Paul-endorsed candidate, loses to Diana DeGette), I heartily agree.

WWPNA activists are envious of East Washington Park, and do not represent the views of those moving into the neighborhood now -- those who chose West Washington Park for the way it is. We who have families don't have as much time as those who formed their societal views in the Brady Bunch era. We don't have as much time not only because of the time involved in raising children and nurturing a career, but because we have to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prevent our children from growing up in a world where they can expect to be drafted into the next senseless war. The amount of time was huge in this caucus system.

As you indicated some of WWPNA's concerns should be addressed more directly, such as limiting scrape-offs. Other ideas include reverting to the 19th century Denver fire-prevention code of requiring only brick construction. That would address WWPNA's complaint of "stucco everywhere", which I actually do agree with.

WWPNA also doesn't like second floors to peer into neighbors' back yards. As you said, this does nothing to prevent those horrid pop-tops.

Another advantage of increased density is support for commerce. Increased density will help support the West Washington Park Whole Foods and ensure it sticks around. WWPNA continually grouses at the loss of the Safeway at Alameda and Logan. Their actions today are threatening to do the same to Whole Foods.

WWPNA prevented the wonderful Taki restaurant at Logan and Bayaud from getting a liquor license for the first six months of its operation. They barely hung on until they overturned it on appeal. In WWPNA's most recent newsletter, they published a letter extolling how great Taki is (it's my favorite in Denver).

WWPNA does not have a good track record when it comes to foresight.

I wish I could go to the meeting tonight, but I'm giving a talk tonight at the Montessori school I started. I hope you go and give them hell.

Kevin Dickson said...

Unfortunately, this is a done deal. There's an unwritten protocol that requires all council members to vote in accordance with the neighborhood's councilperson. There are two property-rights-upholding council members, Charlie Brown and Jeannie Faatz, who will dissent.

Downzoning also seems to be insidiously creeping throughout the city. Many of us local citizen/investors have been counting on R2 zoning in our business plan.

Anonymous said...

Thank God you don't have DETCHED single family homes over there!

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

At the meeting, I noted that Single Family Conversions (i.e. buildings that look like single family homes but are actually multi-family residences) appear to be significantly undercounted in city figures.

The map of the clasification given to each lot on display classified as single family homes, overlooked many single family conversions I have personally observed in the past couple of weeks.

I would estimate the understatement to be somewhere in the range of 25%-75% of the amount listed. It looks like there have been about 40 scapes in the neighborhood in the period displayed in presentations.

I was also struck at the way that percentages of use were counted (a single family home and a duplex were counted equally for purposes a figuring out what current use percentages were in the neighborhood).

Even by those skewed measures only about 77% of "moritorium area" properties, and about 85% of re-zone area properties are single family detached homes.

I was also struck by increasing details about what is planned conceptionally for the proposed new zoning code, which council aims for adoption by July 2010. Essentially, it looks like current zoning plus, with more fine graded limitations on anything different from current use.

Kevin Dickson said...

Speaking as someone who may eventually scrape and rebuild some homes, the new code is welcome. (I will only scrape completely worn out homes, however). It may prevent some ugly out of scale redevelopments, which give us all a bad rap.

Being forced to build, say, 25% smaller just makes us build smaller and better, with a small impact on profit.

Taking away dwelling unit count, however, is a BIG problem.

Michael Malak said...


I don't mind seeing neglected bunaglows go, but please no dimensional lumber toothpicks holding up porches, no stucco, no just-got-my-adult-teeth oversized cedar wall shingles. Just brick. Blend in with the 19th century fire code (even if it's just a facade and waferboard is underneath).

787 S. Washington St. is a fine example of new construction in West Washington Park.