Denver Aims to Change Rules to Build Accessory Dwelling Units to Make them More Accessible

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Denver Aims to Change Rules to Build Accessory Dwelling Units to Make them More Accessible

The city of Denver's "one-size fits all" approach for accessory dwelling units isn't working out as planned, so now city leaders hope to make changes to the project to make them more accessible for people to build those units.

ADUs are self-contained, smaller living spaces that are an extension of an existing property. They are often referred to as mother-in-law suites, casitas, backyard cottages or garage apartments. ADUs are required to have a kitchen, bath and sleeping area, but is not considered a separate property that could be sold on their own.

Beginning Wednesday, the Office for Community Planning and Development is hosting several open houses to address some of the issues with ADUs, hoping to tweak the program to make it more accessible, by tailoring it by neighborhood instead. The recommendations would not rezone any properties. Since 2010, the city has only had about 450 applications for people to build these units, and now they're hoping to make it easier.

"We've heard a lot about the design of them, and the design codes and how the codes might be a barrier for folks," said Laura Swartz, the communications director for Community Planning and Development for the city and county of Denver. "We have urban neighborhoods, we have suburban neighborhoods, so what we're doing now is we're proposing some updates to our design standards to make it a little bit easier to build an ADU to make them more flexible to address some of the neighborhood concerns."

Some of the current concerns include privacy issues or the requirement that ADUs have to be two-story instead of one, or even making building one more affordable and equitable, especially for people living in multi-generational households, like many families in west Denver.

"ADUs are not being built in Denver. It's one of the few cities with a housing crisis, and with rent as high as ours, that hasn't provided the policy, incentive, technical support, financing and partnership to help homeowners build ADUs," said Renee Martinez-Stone, who oversees the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative with Denver Housing Authority. West Denver Renaissance Collaborative helps families in west Denver try to achieve the goal of building an ADU.

"They have the need. They need that policy, partnership and incentive," she said. Cities like Los Angeles have similar ADU programs. Martinez-Stone and Swartz hope that making changes to the ADU rules and regulations will make them more attainable for all types of residents.

"There are requirements that I think need to be looked at to reconcile who can develop in the city and county of Denver. What are the costs of that development?," Martinez-Stone said. "The demand will be there and Denver could be a city seeing a lot of ADUs being built like there are in other high-ground cities."