Guidance for Denver DIY Spaces and Zoning Requirements

I practice arts & entertainment law in Colorado, have co-created a local cooperative artistic space, volunteer services to artists, and socialize in arts and Burning Man communities. I live and breathe arts in community.

So, when I heard about the tragedy in Oakland’s GhostShip, I was hit particularly hard. I didn’t know any of the victims directly, but many of my friends did. My mind quickly turned to our Colorado DIY spaces—what were they feeling, what were they scrambling to correct in their safety approaches, and how could I help? Not surprisingly, I found that artists in Colorado are grieving and also fighting to keep their spaces up to code in the face of increased interest from safety agencies.

At a recent gathering of artists running DIY spaces, I heard a lot of confusion and uncertainty about the lay of the legal landscape. Watch this space over the next weeks as I pen a blog series that answers questions many spaces are having and elaborates on top issues for DIY creative spaces.

All situations are case specific, so you may need further guidance given your particular situation.

Verifying Your Zoning Status in Denver

In Denver, the public online records provide a nice link to the basic information you will need to feel more assured about your zoning status. Remember that public government websites are never guaranteed to be 100% up to date, but this should give you a reasonable place to start in confirming that your space does not have unresolved zoning issues.

1) Visit the online real estate records page:
https://www.denvergov.org/property

2) Hit “Advanced Search”

3) Enter your address information

4) There will be a hyperlink on your building’s address. Click on the address to go to the detail page.

5) The website will take you to the “Property Summary” tab. Click the Tab to view “Property Map”. This is where you will find all sorts of juicy information about your zoning allowances.

6) Note all special designations for your property, including Enterprise Zones, Historic Landmark status, and zone district information. I recommend making a written note for easy reference as you look at the Zoning Code. You may be part of an “overlay district”, which means that two sets of requirements apply to you—make sure to check the requirements for any and all references made in this section.

7) The page will link to the version of the Denver Building Code that relates to your property. Click through to that document in the “Code Version” line.

Check the Code and How It Applies to Your Building

Understanding the Zoning Code is complicated and technical. This makes it difficult to maintain exact compliance and leaves property owners open to differing interpretations and potential violations, even discrepancies within the same department. Keep your focus on trying to get reasonable compliance with the most that you can. There is always a chance that the city will show up and point out a non-compliance issue that you haven’t thought of. Your attempts to get it right in the other instances will help you establish good faith and some negotiating room with the city if you need it.

Click through to the version of the Zoning Code that applies to your property.

a) Look at Articles 1 and 2 to get an overview of how to use the manual.
b) Look for the Article that matches each of the zoning assignments given to your building.
c) Find the Chapter on your specific zoning assignment and read.
1. You will find information on what types of buildings are allowable and offset distances from the sidewalks (this won’t really be anything you can control or worry about). What will be important is to Check the Uses Allowable for Your Type of Building.
2. You do want to look at any requirements that apply to free-standing structures you have in your space (sheds, lockers, garages…).
3. Look at the tables that apply to your type of zoning in each section of the chapter for the requirements that you need to follow. This is where you can start to pull together a list of items to prioritize as you come into compliance. Or, hopefully, you won’t need to make any improvements at all.
4. Pay particular attention to parking requirements and the USE TABLES. You should verify that the way you are using the property is allowable. And, you will want to know if you are required to get a permit for any specific types of use. For example, if you are zoned for mixed industrial use and live/work, there are limitations on parking and biking for which you will need approval.
d) Look at Article 10 for rules that apply to everyone.
e) Look at Article 11 for definitions and rules that apply to your specific uses.

If you determine that there may be compliance issues, discuss with the building owner. Your landlord may know something you don’t regarding prior approvals from the city or being grandfathered in for certain items. And, your landlord may be willing to help you with expenses to make things right.

Note that these instructions only apply to the Zoning Code. You will also need to be in compliance with the Building Code.  Check this blog later for highlights from the International Building Code, which is used as a model law for municipalities.

If you don’t live in Denver, your city may also include zoning information as part of the public record. Research what information is available to you through both the assessors office and the real estate records office of your city.

If you need more information or help with these or other topics for your DIY space, please contact Caroline Kert us via www.danieltgoodwin.com.

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