Denver looks to extend deadline for exemption from new development rules

Denver intends to push back a final deadline determining which developments are exempt from new regulations enacted last year, a move that will give breathing room to hundreds of projects in the planning stages.

Currently, projects seeking to be grandfathered in from the “Expanding Housing Affordability” ordinance must have their site-development plan approved by the city by Aug. 31, just over five months from now.

But the Hancock administration is now asking the City Council to effectively push back that date by a year. Under a proposal made public Thursday, projects would need to at least receive the third round of site-development plan comments by May 17, 2024. If that deadline is met, developers would be given until Aug. 31, 2024 to get the plans completely approved.

A small number of projects subject to additional subdivision or large development review would see their final deadline pushed back from Dec. 31 of this year to as late as Dec. 21, 2024.

The council still needs to vote to make the changes. They will be discussed at a committee meeting on Tuesday.

“We really feel like this is a fair resolution to the difficult situation our customers have been in,” said Laura Swartz, spokeswoman for Denver’s Community Planning and Development department, or CPD.

The new regulations, which went into effect July 1 last year, require those constructing residential buildings in the city to incorporate a varying amount of income-restricted units, or to pay a fee of $250,000 or more for each missing unit. Developers building a non-residential project, like a warehouse or office building, must pay an increased linkage fee.

As is typical for major legislation, however, the regulations also established a way for developers who were already planning projects to build them under the previous rules.

The first deadline was June 30, 2022. Developers had to submit a “concept plan” — the earliest version of a development proposal — by that date if they wanted to be grandfathered in.

Hundreds of plans were submitted in the weeks before that date. As of July 1, 2022, the city had 746 plans to review: 364 concept plans and 382 more-detailed site-development plans. That doesn’t count plans related to single-family homes or duplexes, which go through a separate process.

The aforementioned second deadline of Aug. 31, 2023 differs from the 2022 deadline in one key way. Because it hinges on the plans being approved, it depends in part on how fast staff work at Community Planning and Development, the Denver department that reviews plans.

The intent to push back that second deadline is an acknowledgement that the department has not been able to review plans as fast as expected, due to the high number of submittals last May and June and other factors like staffing challenges within CPD.

CPD’s Swartz said pushing the deadline is in line with the “original spirit” of the ordinance, because the goal was always to give developers a reasonable time period to wrap up plans already in the works.

“Because of city backlogs and delays, that time period envisioned is no longer reasonable,” she said.

Peter Wall, a lobbyist with Wall Kane Consulting who negotiated with the city on the matter, told BusinessDen other cities have instituted similar regulations, but they didn’t see as many projects seeking to be grandfathered in.

“What we got was way more significant in terms of the number of submittals,” he said.

Wall said his firm represents about a dozen or so developers, some of whom have multiple projects currently under review, and noted many of the projects are for additional housing the region desperately needs. He said he found CPD receptive to discussing a delay and that the department initially proposed pushing the deadline for final approval to May 17, 2024.

“That’s when we came up with this additional time that can be unlocked,” he said, referring to the 15 additional weeks.

Swartz said it makes sense to give extra time to projects that have gotten three rounds of comments.

“Projects at that stage are so close to completion,” she said.

Of the 764 plans in the review process as of July 1, about 350 are still being processed, Swartz said.

The city has done a variety of things to try to address the backlog, including implementing so-called “blitzes” in which some staff members are directed to ignore phone calls and skip meetings so they can focus on reviews. 

Swartz told BusinessDen the department has also worked on rebalancing the workload for employees. Before, plans were typically assigned to a particular employee based solely on the location of the project. Assignments are now made based on both geography and an employee’s capacity to take on more work.

The influx of new plans also came during a period in which CPD lost a lot of employees in recent years, part of a broader trend of employees nationwide leaving their jobs in the wake of the pandemic. Swartz said the department has since had success in hiring, bringing on about 120 employees since the start of 2022 to fill vacant positions.

Read more at our partner, BusinessDen.

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