Denver, CO

More back houses, 'granny flats' may sprout from Denver home lots

David Heitz
Photo byNicolas Gonzalez/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) In crowded Southern California, they call them “granny flats” – second homes built on the same lot as the main structure. Historically they’ve proven one way of caring for elderly parents without compromising privacy too much.

Denver wants to make it easier to build these structures throughout the city. A committee has been studying ways to do that since last year. Now, it’s making recommendations for ways to change the zoning code without changing the zoning. The Budget and Policy Committee of the Denver City Council heard an update on the project at its Jan. 9 meeting.

Owner-occupied requirement may be removed

One of the biggest changes would remove the requirement that lots with accessory dwelling units be owner-occupied. “We think we actually have a decent strategy moving forward,” said senior planner Josh Palmeri.

Abe Barge, principal planner for Denver, said some residents have shared their displeasure for removing the owner-occupied requirement. They worry properties could be gobbled up by corporate property owners.

But councilmember Robin Kniech said “the cat is a little out of the bag” when it comes to Denver’s proposed changes to policies regarding accessory dwelling units. She said it may be unconstitutional to prohibit corporate ownership of properties.

Kniech said the point of loosening requirements around accessory dwelling units is to increase housing stock. According to a staff presentation given at the committee meeting, California law does not allow owner-occupied requirements for the units. "However, investors own 17% of the single-family housing rental stock but permit and construct just 8% of its (units)."

Colorado Springs and Lakewood require owner occupancy in attached accessory dwelling units, but not detached units, according to the staff presentation.

Units allowed on all lot sizes
Photo byGustavo Zambelli/Unsplash

Palmeri said most of the research undertaken by the committee has focused on detached accessory dwelling units, although attached ones are permitted, too. The committee has proposed changing the code to allow accessory dwelling units on all lot sizes.

It costs about $300,000 to build a detached accessory dwelling unit, according to Palmeri. He said a property owner would be hard-pressed to find a new construction home in Denver for less than that.

The law would allow accessory dwelling units up to 5,000 square feet to be excluded from a lot’s total building coverage. This is important because the building footprint cannot exceed up to 40 percent of the lot.

Of 100,000 single-home lots in Denver, about 24,000 currently allow accessory dwelling units, the presentation showed.

Single-story units would be permitted

Another proposed change would allow single-story accessory dwelling units. The units currently must be a story and a half. Single-story units would be permitted without a parking requirement. These units would cost about 30 percent less than the story-and-a-half models.

Row homes and duplexes also would be eligible for accessory dwelling units under the new regulations. Two-story units would be allowed on lots with an alley.

Councilmember Kendra Black asked whether people could build accessory dwelling units and then use them to expand their own living space. Offices, man caves and recreation rooms come to mind, she said. Palmeri said such structures would be allowed for that use. He said the units still might become a separate living space when the property changes ownership.

Black also asked whether garages can be turned into living units. Palmeri said it’s expensive, but some people do it. “Some people have old beautiful garages and brick walls they want to retain.”
Photo byCity and County of Denver

Public outreach, upcoming meetings
Photo byJoss Woodhead/Unsplash

The city has worked diligently to engage the public about accessory dwelling units, Barge and Palmeri reported.

“This is not short-term rentals,” emphasized councilmember Amanda Sawyer. “Two very different things here.”

Upcoming open houses where residents can learn more about the units include:

Swansea Recreation Center
5-7 p.m., Wednesday, January 25
2650 E 49th Ave
Denver, 80216
Visit event page for complete details.

La Alma Recreation Center
5-7 p.m., Thursday, January 26,
1325 W 11th Ave
Denver, 80204
Visit event page for complete details.

Montbello Recreation Center
5-7 p.m., Wednesday, February
15555 E 53rd Ave
Denver, 80239
Visit event page for complete details.

Virginia Village Branch Library
3:45-5:45 p.m., Thursday, February 2
1500 S Dahlia St
Denver, 80222
Visit event page for complete details.

Open House - Virtual
5-6:30 p.m., Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Virtual meeting via Zoom
Visit event page for complete details.

Bear Valley Branch Public Library
3:30-5:30 p.m., Thursday, February 9
5171 W Dartmouth Ave
Denver, CO 80236
Visit event page for complete details.

The Planning Board and City Council ultimately must approve the proposed zoning changes. Denver has permitted 415 new accessory dwelling units between 2010 and July 2022. The median square feet of the structures was 647.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO

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