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Incentive Height and Design Overlays for River North / 38th & Blake Station Area

Updated 3/1/18

Key Facts on 38th and Blake Zoning Overlays

> Projects seeking to take advantage of the height incentives must submit site development plans to Development Services and a proposal on how they intend to meet overlay requirements to the Office of Economic Development. Both must be approved for a building permit to be issued. As of March 1, no project has submitted a proposal to the Office of Economic Development.

> The design overlay establishes new high-quality design standards.

> The incentive overlay requires projects that use the height incentives to provide affordable housing units in the station area, or significantly greater contributions to Denver’s Affordable Housing Fund than are required elsewhere in the city.

> To meet incentive requirements:

  • Affordable housing units must be new units that would otherwise not have been built.
  • Affordable units must be comparable to the market-rate housing units that generated the requirement.
  • Affordable units must be inside the overlay boundary, not elsewhere in the city.
  • The zoning is rooted in a form-based zoning code; floor-area ratios (FAR) do not apply. 
  • The number of affordable units required for development is based on square footage above the base height. 
  • Residential buildings must provide affordable housing units.
  • Commercial buildings can: 
    • provide affordable housing units according to square footage above the base height, or
    • pay the city’s affordable housing fee for the square footage below the base height and pay five times the city’s existing affordable housing fee for square footage above the base height, or 
    • pay the city’s affordable housing fee for the full square footage and offset fee for square footage above the base height by providing subsidized space for uses that serve the community, such as day-cares, groceries or artists’ spaces.

Council Adoption

City Council voted to adopt the incentive height and design overlays for the 38th and Blake Station Area and the River North Arts District at its meeting February 12.  The following documents were presented for council review ahead of the vote. To see a replay of the meeting visit the Denver Channel 8 Archive.

Project Information

As part of ongoing efforts to implement the 38th & Blake Station Area Plan Amendments, City Council President Albus Brooks proposed an Incentive Height Overlay for the 38th and Blake Station area and a Design Overlay for the station area and surrounding River North Arts District (RiNo).

The intention of the overlays is to help direct growth into areas of the city that are best equipped to handle change, while also ensuring that those areas become great places. The overlays promote high quality design and capture a portion of the increased property values that result from significant public investments, such as the train station, and use them to ensure that new development benefits the community. They will be implemented through Denver Zoning Code text and map amendments. The text amendment will create the overlays, a map amendment will establish where the overlays apply, and a second map amendment will rezone certain properties to achieve the appropriate base zoning for the height incentive overlay to be applied properly.

Legislative Process for Zoning Code Text & Map Amendments

The public legislative process for the proposed text and map amendments to implement both the River North Design Overlay and 38th and Blake Incentive Overlay began with a public hearing at the Denver Planning Board on December 6. The Planning Board voted to recommend that the City Council approve the proposed text and map amendments. City Council will consider the amendments and hold a public hearing February 12. 

Proposed Denver Zoning Code text and map amendments:

Proposed Denver Revised Municipal Code (DRMC) amendment:

Rezoning of Base Zone Districts

To use the Incentive Overlay, properties must be mapped to a non-customized Denver Zoning Code zone district with a maximum height in building stories (i.e., I-MX-5 or C-MX-8). City Council President Albus Brooks has proposed a legislative map amendment to rezone some properties not currently mapped with a qualifying district to allow use of the Incentive Overlay. This map (PDF) illustrates the proposal for legislative rezoning. 

Please contact Senior City Planner Andrew Webb if you have questions or concerns.

River North Design Overlay

The 38th and Blake Station Area Plan Amendment process indicated a community desire for design regulations to encourage creativity and ensure the area remains a welcoming place for artists, residents, and businesses. A concurrent RiNo Art District request for a Denver Zoning Code design overlay district expressed similar desires for the wider RiNo district. 

The proposed River North Design Overlay District would implement plan amendment recommendations and the RiNo Art District overlay request by establishing regulations to achieve a vibrant pedestrian realm with building and site design that emphasizes walkability and access to daylight, minimizes the impact of parking and integrates appropriately with existing buildings in RiNo and portions of the 38th and Blake Station area that are just outside the district. The Design Overlay District will include regulations for building setbacks, parking location and access, massing (the shape and form of a building as perceived by a viewer at street level), street-level active uses, pedestrian access and transparency. 

38th & Blake Incentive Overlay

The 38th and Blake Station Area Plan Amendment process indicated community support for taller building heights with development that provides community benefits. The proposed 38th and Blake Incentive Overlay would implement those recommendations by allowing a building to exceed the maximum height specified in the underlying zone district if the building provides specific benefits, such as affordable housing units in the area around the station, increased payments to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, or community-serving uses. Specific requirements would vary depending on the uses in the building: 

  • Projects with 50 percent or more residential uses: Development using the incentive would be required to build affordable housing within the station area (no fee option)
  • Projects with 50 percent or more non-residential uses: Development using the incentive would have an option to build affordable housing units within the station area, pay increased affordable housing fees or pay the city's standard affordable housing fee and provide community-serving uses (such as artist studios or maker spaces)

Affordable housing unit and fee requirements would be based on multiples of the formulas included in the Affordable Housing Fee ordinance adopted in 2016 (Chapter 27, Article 5 of the Denver Revised Municipal Code). Increased requirements would apply only to the square footage of the building above the maximum height set in the underlying zone district. This package of proposed amendments includes an amendment to the Denver Revised Municipal Code to create a new Article VI: Incentives for Affordable Housing, which would establish the affordable housing requirements for the 38th & Blake Incentive Overlay.

Stakeholder meeting
5:30 p.m., Thursday, July 6
Agenda (PDF)
Presentation (PDF)

Planning Board Information Item
3 p.m., July 19
Presentation (PDF)

City Council Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Information Item
10:30 a.m., August 8
Presentation (PDF)

INC Zoning and Planning Committee Presentation
9:30 a.m., August 26
Presentation (PDF)

Feasibility Results Meeting
12:30 p.m., October 12 
Feasibility study (PDF)

Proposed Legislative Base Rezoning Meeting for Property Owners
2 p.m., September 12
Presentation (PDF)

Public Meeting
6 p.m., Wednesday November 8
Presentation (PDF)
Open House Boards (PDF)
Comments Worksheet (PDF)

Drop-in Office Hours

> Tuesday, November 14
9 to 11 a.m.
Wellington Webb Building
Room 2I5 (Check-in at Records Desk, 2nd Floor)

> Thursday, November 16
9 to 11 a.m.
RiNo Art District Offices
2901 Blake Street

> Monday, November 20
2 to 4 p.m.
RiNo Art District Offices
2901 Blake Street

Planning Board Information Item
3 p.m., Wednesday November 15
City and County Building, 1437 Bannock Street
Parr-Widener Community Room (#389)
Staff report (PDF)
Presentation (PDF)

Incentive Overlay Feasibility Evaluation Follow Up Meeting
3:15-4:15 p.m., November 30
Wellington Webb Building, Room 4I5
Agenda (PDF)
Presentation (PDF)

Planning Board Public Hearing on Text and Map Amendments
3 p.m., December 6, 2017
City and County Building, 1437 Bannock Street
Parr-Widener Community Room (#389)
Staff Report (PDF)
Presentation (PDF)

City Council Land Use and Transportation Committee
10:30 a.m., January 2, 2018
Staff Report (PDF)
Presentation (PDF)


Stay Connected

Abe Barge
Principal City Planner

Andrew Webb
Senior City Planner


Proposed Zoning Overlay Boundaries

Map of proposed overlay districts for River North and the 38th and Blake Station Area

Click image for full size map. 

What is an overlay?

Overlay zone districts are adopted to supplement otherwise generally applicable zone district standards with additional design standards, allowances or other special requirements.

When would this take effect?

City Council will consider and vote on this proposal at the scheduled February 12 public hearing. If approved, the proposal would be effective upon receiving the mayor's signature later in the week. 

From that point forward, all projects in the affected areas in the 38th and Blake Station Area must adhere to the new regulations. A project may proceed under the previous regulations if a formal site plan is submitted by 4 p.m. February 12 AND if that plan is approved by April 2, 2018.