Scrape-Off Redevelopments Provoke Backlash in Denver Neighborhoods

The Rocky Mountain News reports how densification has provoked a strong backlash in certain Denver neighborhoods. The focus there is on multifamily dwellings. Just to be clear, the North Street Neighborhood Association has no objection to two- and three-family detached homes, of which there are many in our ward. We are concerned, however, about the spread of large condo developments into streets of detached homes.

No more multifamily dwellings in Sloan’s Lake, West Highland (4/28/08)

The council voted 11-2 to rezone 53 acres in West Highland and 62 acres in Sloan’s Lake from R-2 to R-1, putting an end to so-called scrape-off redevelopments to make room for higher density multiple-unit properties…

About 130 people testified at the two hearings, and at least twice that many showed up to listen…

Supporters said the increased density from the multiple-unit structures was ruining the character of the two neighborhoods, which are comprised of predominately single-family detached homes.

The outcropping of multifamily structures has cast shadows on gardens, increased traffic and created parking wars, among other quality of life issues, they said…

The percentage of single-family detached homes in West Highland would drop from 87 percent to 37 percent if all the zone lots were developed under the current zoning. In Sloan’s Lake, it would go from 71 percent to 22 percent.

The development potential threatens the existing neighborhood character as envisioned in Blueprint Denver, said Deirdre Oss, a senior city planner…

See also:

LA Weekly: “City Hall’s ‘Density Hawks’ Are Changing L.A.’s DNA
The shift is pushing L.A. from its suburban model of single-family
homes with gardens or pools — the reason many come here — toward an
urban template of shrinking green patches and multistory buildings of
mostly renters…

Of 16,874 housing units built the year after Villaraigosa was elected,
86 percent were multifamily — the vast majority of those rentals.
Established homeowner neighborhoods — the glue that historian and
former California State Librarian Kevin Starr once noted helped hold
L.A. together, even in bad times — are an afterthought; the Brookings
Institute reports that L.A. is suffering a middle-class decline more
pronounced than in any other urban area in America…

LA Weekly: “What’s Smart About Smart Growth?”
Real estate developers have caught on, using the phrase shamelessly to
gain public support for enormous developments, from a hillside
subdivision near Santa Clarita to the Westside’s Playa Vista, the
massive, 5,800-home development near Marina del Rey. In a city where
growth was once a dirty word, smart growth is the spoonful of sugar
that suddenly makes bigness palatable…

Vancouver Sun: “Call it EcoDensity or EcoCity –either way it’s a hard sell”
Despite Yaletown, almost 70 per cent of the city is single-family
housing. Vancouver, essentially, remains an urban suburb. And there is
a reason for this.

People love it.

They love the city’s
garden-like nature. They love the stability and social cohesion of a
single-family neighbourhood. They like having neighbours they know…

Metro Portland’s Long Experience with Smart Growth: A Cautionary Tale
Restrictive growth policies actually caused increased suburbanization
in Portland, which now has the 10th greatest suburbanization rate in
U.S. As home prices went up in the site-restricted metropolitan area,
families moved further out to find affordable housing. Portland
actually has rates of suburbanization that are close to that in
metropolitan areas with so-called “white flight” and other central city
problems. This phenomenon increases vehicle miles traveled as it
lengthens commutes…

The notion that potential homeowners would prefer to pay
the higher cost of high-density housing as an alternative to the
traditional home/yard/neighborhood environment style of raising
families is wrong. The percentage of families moving to the Portland
area that buy or rent within the UGB [Urban Growth Boundary] has fallen
dramatically since site restrictions were implemented.

Planetizen: “Trouble in Smart Growth’s Nirvana” (6/30/02)
is no more popular in Portland’s neighborhoods than it is in Berkeley,
Boulder or Bozeman. As a result, a recent citizen’s initiative sought
to limit Metro’s (the land use regulation agency) densification power.
Metro feared passage so much that it placed a competing densification
referendum on the ballot, which passed with 66 percent of the vote. The
citizen’s initiative received a respectable 43 percent…

The New Draft Sustainable Northampton Plan: Balancing Compact Growth Against Taxes, Urban Greenspace, Homeowner Preferences
Mishandled campaigns for density can trigger an intense political
backlash. In suburban Portland, voters recalled a mayor and two council
members over dense development and a neighborhood light-rail alignment
(Farris, p.23). Farris, an Associate Professor in the Department of
Planning and Landscape Architecture at Clemson University, recommends a
smarter Smart Growth approach that takes into account the facts on the
ground and citizen preferences:

…smart growth advocates should be realistic about the
amount of development that will occur in built-up areas versus outlying
open land as various stakeholders consider future policies. The U.S.
population is expected to double in this century. It is hard to imagine
that a large percentage of that growth will occur in existing built-up

Smart growth advocates should focus especially on
encouraging higher-density quality development on open peripheral land.
The discussion in this article suggests that this is where most
development will occur. Perhaps up to 20 percent can be infill in
cities and the older suburbs (this would be a big increase from present
patterns). The density of most cities is 5 to 10 times that of their
suburbs (Downs 1994)…

Our Column in Today’s Gazette: The Hidden Risks of ‘Smart Growth’
Smart growth-related problems have been seen in a variety of locales. Bozeman, Montana (population 35,000), is similar in size to Northampton.

Steven Greenhut, a columnist for the Orange County Register, is critical of its Portland-style growth controls:

Creating unattractive and high-density projects in a place
awash in open space only pushes people farther out into the
countryside. In Belgrade, eight miles away, one finds market-driven
suburban-style subdivisions. That city does not have many restrictions,
and those who cannot afford Bozeman or who want a bigger place simply
move away, thus promoting the sprawl that Smart Growthers are trying to

Mary Riddel, “A Dynamic Approach to Estimating Hedonic Prices for Environmental Goods: An Application to Open Space Purchases”
important outcome of the Boulder [Colorado] open space purchase program
has been leapfrog development of areas outside the greenbelt. Many
critics of the program maintain that development was not thwarted, but
rather relocated. Our [research] results support this conclusion. In
fact, commercial and residential expansion occurred because of the

Cox: “METROPOLITAN DENVER AT RISK: How Densification Will Intensify
Traffic Congestion, Air Pollution and the Housing Affordability Crisis”

Berkeley, California: Cautions on Infill
must draw people back into relatively compact urban areas. Showcase
cities that have managed to attract would-be suburbanites into
increased core densities have done so through neighborhood
revitalization and by giving priority to quality of life, not density.
This is the opposite of what Berkeley is doing…