Planning Glossary

Community Planning and Development's guide to terms commonly used in city planning.

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Abut or abutting

To physically touch at a point or line; or to share a common property line, or zone lot line. Intervening streets and alleys destroy “abutting,” except where specifically allowed by the Denver Zoning Code. For example, two zone lots that share a common zone lot line are “abutting” (and also “adjacent).”

Accessory dwelling unit (ADU)

A second residence on the property of a single-family house, or second residence within a single-family house (such as an apartment over the garage or a smaller house in the backyard) with its own separate entrance and living space. Sometimes they are called “granny flats” or “mother-in-law apartments.” In Denver, not all zone districts allow ADUs.

  • What is not an ADU? Renting a room inside your house to a non-relative.
  • What’s the difference between an ADU and a duplex? A duplex is made up of two joined, but separate properties that may have separate owners. An ADU, on the other hand, is “accessory” to the primary unit on the property.


The addition of amenities, activities or events that encourage people to use or visit parks, public spaces or neighborhoods by “activating” the area.


Sharing a zone lot line or being separated only by an alley. Named or numbered streets destroy adjacency, except where specifically allowed by the Denver Zoning Code.

Alternative transportation

Travel by means other than a car. Light rail, commuter rail, bus, cycling and walking are often grouped together under this heading. 


Benefits that increase the value of a property or area. Amenities can be tangible, such as a pool or recreation center, or intangible such as high neighborhood walkability or access to alternative modes of transportation.


Bicycle lane

A separate lane reserved for bicyclists on a street, marked by striping. “Protected” bike lanes include additional barriers to separate car traffic from bicyclists, ranging from plastic posts to a parking lane between the bike lane and the street.

Bicycle route

A designated route marked by signage, usually on more lightly traveled residential or secondary roads.


A tract of land bounded by platted streets, public parks, cemeteries, railroad rights-of-way, shore lines, or the corporate boundaries of the city.


An abandoned, idled or under-used industrial or commercial site where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.

Building form

Generally, the shape or configuration of a structure. 

Building form standards or building siting standards

Standards in the Zoning Code that regulate the size, dimension and height of buildings on lots. May also include the placement, orientation, and coverage of a building on a lot. 

Built environment

The collection of manmade buildings and structures where a city’s residents live and work.

Bus rapid transit (BRT)

A bus-based transit system with specialized design, services and infrastructure above and beyond traditional bus service (including its own, separate lane) intended to improve system quality and remove the typical causes of delay. BRT is sometimes called “surface subway” and aims to combine the speed and capacity of light-rail with the lower cost of a bus system.


Capital Improvement Program (CIP)

The pot of dollars available annually for the City of Denver to spend on infrastructure improvements.

Common area

Areas within a building or within a residential development that are available for common use by all owners or tenants. Examples of common areas include, but are not limited to: a clubhouse, courtyard or other shared recreation area; building lobbies, corridors, and stairways; parking areas; laundry room; roof; or storage rooms.

Commuter rail

A rail transportation system using dedicated tracks that are separate and not mixed with automobile traffic. Commuter-Rail cars are larger and heavier than “light-rail” cars, and are meant to travel longer distances with fewer stops between stations.


This term refers to how well a transportation network is connected, based on the number and density of connections or links as well as how direct the connections are from Point A to Point B.


The setting or conditions in which planning and community growth/development take shape.

Curb bump-outs

Extensions of the sidewalk into the street usually used to shorten crossing distances and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street safely. These can also be called “bulb-outs” or “curb extensions.”

Curb cut

A ramp leading smoothly down from a sidewalk to the street, rather than an abrupt step down to the street. Driveways are common examples of curb cuts, but a curb cut can also refer to a wheelchair-accessible ramp from the sidewalk to the street often found at the end of blocks and/or at crosswalks.



Denver Revised Municipal Code (DRMC)

The Denver Revised Municipal Code is a complete list of all the ordinances and rules for the City and County of Denver.


Any building or portion of building that is used as the residence of one or more households, but not including hotels and other lodging accommodation uses, hospitals, tents, or similar uses or structures providing transient or temporary accommodation with the exception of an accessory short-term rental.


Eyes on the street

The concept that activating an area and increasing the number of people (and eyes) present has a positive effect on undesirable behavior.



Any exterior wall surface located at the ground level of a building that encloses the interior of the building.

Fixed rack bicycle parking facility

An unenclosed device used for the parking of bicycles that is affixed permanently to the ground. Examples include, but are not limited to, an inverted “U”-style bicycle the ground level of a building that encloses the interior of the building.

Former Chapter 59

Chapter 59 of the Denver Revised Municipal Code (also informally referred to as the “old code”) served as the city’s primary zoning regulatory tool, before the adoption of the updated Denver Zoning Code in 2010. Certain areas of the city were not rezoned.


The part of someone’s property that touches the street.


Green streets

Streets with additional landscaping, often linking parks.


Habitable room

A room in a dwelling unit designed to be used for living, sleeping, eating or cooking, excluding bathrooms, toilet compartments, closets, halls, storage and similar space.

Habitable space

A story that has at least 4 feet between the ground level and the ceiling joists and that has enough area to provide a room with net floor-to-ceiling distance of 7 feet over half the area of the room.  A “habitable space” may or may not constitute a habitable room (see above definition).

Historic landmark or district

Structures designated for preservation either individually or as part of a larger district designated for preservation under the provisions of D.R.M.C., Chapter 30.

Learn more about Landmark Preservation in Denver.



Development on vacant lots in areas of the city where there are existing buildings and other development.


Public improvements such as roads and traffic signals, sidewalks and bicycle paths, water and sewer lines, power and telecommunication lines.

J, K, L

Land bank

Acquisition of land, typically by a local government or non-profit corporation, to be held for future development.

Land use

A phrase that refers to how people use public and private property. For example, residential land use refers to use of land or property where people live and where residential structures may be built. Commercial land use refers to use of property intended for commercial enterprise that may range from office space to restaurants and retail.

Land-use planning

The process by which the city creates a vision for the city or a smaller area by setting goals or guidelines for how property may be used and what types of buildings and structures may be built there.


Main street

When used in reference to planning, particularly neighborhood planning, this phrase refers to small, neighborhood-scale pedestrian-friendly commercial streets characterized by wide sidewalks, storefronts, open patios and other businesses, buildings and features that encourage pedestrian and street activity. Local examples: South Pearl Street in the Platt Park neighborhood, South Gaylord Street in the Washington Park neighborhood or Kearney Street in Park Hill. Longer, larger scale “main streets” include 17th Street in Uptown, Morrison Road in Westwood and Colfax Avenue in central Denver.

Mass transit

The general term used to identify bus, fixed rail, or other types of transportation service available to the general public that move relatively large numbers of people at one time.

Mixed-use development

The development of a site or building with two or more different principal or primary uses including, but not limited to residential, office, manufacturing, retail, public or entertainment uses.


The ability of people to move around as part of their daily routines.

  • What does the city mean when we say we want to “increase or improve mobility?” We mean to offer residents more and better options for how to move around the city and making it easier/safer to use these options. 

Mode (of transportation)

A particular form or method of travel, for example, walking, driving, bicycling, or public transit (bus or train).


The issues or activities that involve or affect more than one mode of transportation or a path that can be traversed through different forms of travel. Includes transportation connections, choices, cooperation and coordination of various modes. Also known as “intermodal."


Neighborhood character (or "Context")

The defining physical characteristics, such as lot size, setbacks and scale that identify an area or community.

Non-conforming structure

A structure or building that was lawful prior to the adoption, revision, or amendment to the Zoning Code, but that fails to conform to the present requirements of the current zoning code because regulations changed since the building of the now, “non-conforming” structure.


On-street/off-street parking

On-street parking refers to parking within the right-of-way of a public street, typically in designated parallel or diagonally striped spaces adjacent to moving traffic lanes. Off-street parking refers to parking on a surface lot or parking structure that is off the public right-of-way.

Open space

Space that is clearly intended to be usable, publicly accessible, and a visual amenity, but not including parking lots or vestigial landscaped areas left over after the placement of buildings and parking on a zone lot. Publicly accessible open space may be publicly or privately owned, managed or maintained.

Overlay zone district

A set of additional zoning requirements that are mapped and imposed on top of the underlying zone district. Development within an overlay zone must either meet the requirements of both the zoning in place and the additional overlay zoning, or the more restrictive of the two.



A tract or plot of land defined by specific boundaries.  Parcels are owned by a person or entity and are used by the Assessor for tax purposes.  Parcels are different from “zone lots” as zone lots define what can happen on the land while parcels tell us who owns them.


An approach to planning for a space, neighborhood or area that capitalizes on community assets and potential to create spaces that encourage activity, community engagement and wellness.

Planned unit development (PUD)

A zone district wherein an area of land, controlled by one or more landowners, to be developed under unified control or unified plan of development for a number of dwelling units, commercial, education, recreational, or industrial uses, or any combination of the foregoing, the plan for which does not correspond in zone lot size, building form, bulk, use, density, lot coverage, open space, or other restriction to the existing zoning regulations of this Code. See Division 9.6, Planned Unit Development District, of the Denver Zoning Code.

Q, R


The ability of a community to adapt to both internal and external social, economic and environmental challenges without adverse effect to its residents, essential functions and identity.


An amendment to the official zoning map that changes the zoning regulations on land to another zoning type with different regulations.


Site development plan

A specific development plan for a zone lot, use, or building, specifying how the entire site will be developed including, but not limited to, building envelopes, uses, densities, open space, parking/circulation, access, drainage, building area, landscaping, and signs.

Stormwater drainage

Infrastructure that control surface runoff from snow and rain.  Infrastructure includes alleys, curbs, and gutters, and intersection drainage in addition to underground pipes.


Travel demand management (TDM)

A broad range of ideas or programs intended to reduce vehicle trips during rush hour timeframes, or to highly popular destinations.


Upper story setback

The horizontal distance that an upper portion of a building facade is set back from the property or zone lot boundary line.

Upper story step-back

The horizontal distance that an upper portion of a building facade is set back from the face of the building’s lower portion.

Urban design

Involves the social, economic, functional, environmental, and aesthetic objectives that result in the plan or structure of a city, in whole or in part.

V, W


Knowing where you are in a building or area and how to get where you are going. Wayfinding signage is intended to help you move through or around a building or space.

X, Y, Z

Zone lot

The land designated as the building site for a structure; also, the land area occupied by a use or a structure.  Such land area may be designated as a zone lot only by the owner or owners of the lot.


The collection of regulations that governs what uses, activities and building types are allowed in different areas.