Denver, CO

Proposal reimagines Colfax Avenue in Denver

David Heitz
The Bluebird Theater on Colfax attracts the crowds.Photo byMark Hessling/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) To some people, walking down Colfax Avenue along the sidewalk isn’t very welcoming. After all, Colfax Avenue served as the primary artery in and out of Denver before Interstate 70 was built. So, Colfax was built for cars, not people.

Now a city plan is in the works to make strolling down Colfax feel more accommodating. The city is in the early stages of creating an “overlay” for Colfax from Sherman to Yosemite streets. An overlay is city planner jargon for a set of requirements added to the zoning code.

Overlays don’t change the zoning but can require things like larger windows on street-facing properties and setbacks that don’t leave pedestrians so close to the street’s edge. That’s part of what’s planned for Colfax.

Denver City Councilmembers Amanda Sawyer, Chris Herndon, Candi CdeBaca and Chris Hinds held a virtual town hall Tuesday on the Colfax overlay. The overlay affects all four of their districts and includes the following neighborhoods: Capitol Hill, City Park West, Cheesman Park, City Park and Congress Park.

Overlays apply to new developments. The purpose of the Colfax overlay, according to information shared during a virtual town hall Tuesday, is “to encourage transit-oriented development and active street use on properties with frontage along the Colfax corridor.” Think outdoor dining and sidewalk specials.

Bus Rapid Transit line in the works

According to one participant in the virtual town hall, many people have not heard about the Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT coming to Colfax. Plans call for a rapid bus line that will travel up and down the strip. The overlay will allow for special pedestrian-friendly features at bus line stops.

The overlay would not apply to shallow lots on Colfax 70 feet or under. The overlay would help create “transitions” between the public realm and private residential settings, according to information shared at the town hall.

The overlay would require seven-foot setbacks for residential buildings and two-foot setbacks for retail. The thought is that residents along Colfax may feel more comfortable opening their curtains being further away from the sidewalk.

Drive-throughs discouraged; existing ones grandfathered

While the new overlay would discourage drive-through businesses, it would not require existing drive-throughs to change. The overlay claims to create “a location where local businesses can thrive,” especially along the BRT stops.

The overlay would allow for 14-foot ceilings in storefront buildings to allow for a more inviting ground-floor experience. The taller ceilings could accommodate larger windows and create a more inviting feeling from the sidewalk, according to the presentation.

The overlay proposal is in the early stages. There will be more public hearings in the future.

In addition to the overlay, the Planning Department is making it easier for adaptive reuse projects along Colfax, from Broadway to Yosemite. One example has been the conversions of motels into housing.

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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. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

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