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3 neighborhoods in Denver now allowed to build second homes on their property

The rezoning allows homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, commonly known as carriage houses or mother-in-law suites, on their property.

DENVER — Neighborhood by neighborhood, Denver is becoming a friendlier place for homeowners who want to build a second, smaller home on their property.

The city council voted to rezone three neighborhoods in west Denver to allow them to build accessory dwelling units or ADUs. 

"We know accessory dwelling units often by other names like a carriage house or a mother-in-law apartment," said Councilwoman Jamie Torres, who represents District 3. "This is a detached structure, so it's a separate home on the property that is accessory to the primary."

Councilwoman Torres worked to pass legislation for rezoning in Villa Park, Barnum and Barnum West, all neighborhoods in her district. 

"They're being used for family to live in, for grown kids who can't move elsewhere who aren't able to find a home of their own, or elderly parents and relatives, and for rentals," she said. 

Credit: West Denver Renaissance Collaborative
A picture of an ADU built in partnership with the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative.

Brian Cody recently began construction on an ADU in his backyard in Villa Park. It was already zoned for a detached unit, and his ADU will be three bedrooms, nearly the size of his primary home. 

Cody, who has lived in the neighborhood for 23 years, hopes to rent out his unit to his nieces and nephews who graduate from college. 

"If they want to live in Denver this is probably going to be one of their only options," he said. 

The build is only costing Cody about $150,000 because of the city initiative, the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative (WDRC) which serves nine west Denver neighborhoods impacted by gentrification. 

Credit: West Denver Renaissance Collaborative
Neighborhoods that the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative serves.

"If you were looking for a three-bedroom in the city – you would not be able to build that at the price that we're building ADUs," said Renee Martinez-Stone, who runs WDRC through the Denver Housing Authority. 

Not only does WDRC help with funding, but they help homeowners navigate the process of building by supplying architects and contractors. 

"If it wasn't for them honestly I don't think I could afford it," said Cody. 

Cody added this extra income from a rental property is also an incentive to stay in his neighborhood, and not take an offer from an investor. 

"I'd rather honestly stay here because there's nowhere else to go," he said. 

It wasn't until Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval pushed to rezone the Chaffee Park neighborhood in 2019 that full neighborhood rezonings had even happened in Denver. 

Before that, individual homeowners would have to navigate the process and pay to rezone their property themselves. 

Councilwoman Torres said a full rezoning of the city would have to be done by Community Planning and Development, and not every community wants to have this conversation. 

She said her district didn't want to wait, so they made it happen in west Denver. 

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