Denver Zoning Council Allows Safe Campsites To Continue

July 20, Denver Adjustment Council for Zoning Appeals rejected a challenge to the decision of Denver zoning administrator Tina Axelrad to allow safe camping sites across the city.

The board’s 3-2 decision came after more than four hours of testimony from Denver residents, some of whom had appealed Axelrad’s original decision. After that decision was made in May, five people sued the city of Denver, Park Hill United Methodist Church, Pastor Nathan Adams and Colorado Village Collaborative to block the establishment of a secure camping site in the church parking lot at South Park Hill.

Denver District Court Judge A. Bruce Jones quickly dismissed the lawsuit, determining that the plaintiffs had not exhausted all possible administrative remedies. For example, he noted, complainants could always appeal the zoning administrator’s decision to the Adjustment Council for zoning appeals – which they did.

The plaintiffs and a handful of other Park Hill residents have filed appeals to council regarding both the zoning administrator’s decision to allow safe campsites throughout the city and the approval of a site specific permit for church parking. A hearing on this challenge is scheduled for July 27.

During today’s hearing, opponents focused on what they saw as the negative effects of existing secure camping sites, particularly the one set up last month outside of the Park Hill United Methodist Church.

Kurt Monigle, one of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit who lives about two blocks from the church, presented photos of people sleeping on the grassy median along Forest Parkway. “It’s something we’ve never had at Park Hill. Obviously the camp is attracting a new kind of activity that we don’t like, and it’s scary for us,” said Monigle.

Leah Capritta, a lawyer who lives in Park Hill, was one of those who filed the appeal; she said Axelrad had engaged in an “abuse of power” by authorizing secure camping sites. “Besides providing one hot meal a day and a place to shower and shoot yourself, the camps do not offer a real path for productive citizenship and reinforce habits leading to drug addiction,” she added. .

Speakers also presented technical arguments, questioning whether the zoning administrator had created a temporary “unlisted use” for secure camping sites to bypass existing listed uses in Denver’s zoning code.

“It wasn’t really an unlisted use that required a decision from the administrator,” said Sarah Baker, a lawyer representing a group of people appealing the decision. Safe camping sites were already included in a zoning category that includes homeless shelters, so safe camping sites should only be allowed in zoning districts where similar facilities are allowed, he said. worth Baker.

And Baker had another argument: that the zoning administrator did not consider all of the criteria related to the designation of an unlisted temporary use mentioned in Denver’s zoning code before allowing campsites. secure in Denver.

Axelrad disagreed, telling the board that she had the power to authorize secure campsites under the unlisted temporary use category and that she had followed the letter of the law. She also said that every secure camping site “has been very successful to date”. The city’s first two secure camping sites signed their six-month leases in May; In addition to the Park Hill location, there is a fourth site in a parking lot on the Regis University campus.

Board members Charlie Young, Nancy Burkhart and Frank Schultz all voted to dismiss the appeal.

“It’s something that should be legislated,” Young said. “It’s not something that should necessarily be up to us. But do I think Mrs Axelrad was wrong in her opinion? No. It’s up to me.”

Board members Jim Keavney and Penny Elder seconded the call.

“For me, this is just an extremely difficult question to tackle, because I hear loud and clear from many people in the neighborhood and from neighborhood associations that this has been a positive thing in their community and that it offers sure opportunities. for temporary housing is a much better solution than random priority camping and that sort of thing, “Elder said.” And so my heart is drawn one way, but in my analysis I have some concerns in the other way.”

For the Zoning Remedies Adjustment Council to overturn Axelrad’s policy, a qualified majority of four members would have been required. But while three members voted against the call, they all voiced concerns about how the city of Denver has handled secure camping sites. In particular, they said Denver City Council should be more involved in creating a legislative framework for safe camping sites, with Young believing there should be “a lot more rules about it.”

But first, the Agency will have a chance to hear many of the same arguments at the July 27 hearing, which will formally focus on the Park Hill site.


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Sally J. Minick