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Group Living Rules Update

About the Project

Denver is seeing increasing demand for non-traditional housing. With the evolving needs of our residents in mind, along with recent changes to other housing regulations, city planners will work with an advisory committee to evaluate the Denver Zoning Code’s rules for “group living.” This evaluation will include a review of land uses and definitions for: households, community corrections facilities, shelters for the homeless, residential care homes, new uses like tiny home villages, and more. Based on this evaluation, planners will recommend updates to the zoning code for some or all of these housing types.

While the evaluation of the code should identify any and all relevant problems with the current rules, several have already become clear, including: 

Outdated or confusing language. The current Denver Zoning Code was adopted in 2010. However, some of its language came from the previous code, now called Former Chapter 59, which has its origins in the 1950s. This has resulted in regulations that may be confusing or contradictory, antiquated, or in conflict with current federal and state fair housing laws. Examples of these may include the current definitions of “households,” and complicated regulations for shelters for the homeless.

Emerging uses not considered in the code. In recent years, demand has emerged for new housing types that cannot be achieved using the zoning code’s use definitions or building forms. Examples include “tiny home villages” of detached single sleeping units that lack the amenities of a legal dwelling unit, and commercial buildings converted to live-work-performance art spaces. 

Changing needs. Recent efforts to address homelessness have highlighted zoning requirements that make it difficult to establish new shelters. The zoning code also imposes limitations on mixed uses in these facilities that could be beneficial, such as small-scale job training or storage for clients. 

Community corrections moratorium. A 2008 moratorium on new community corrections facilities will expire in 2018. This project will review current regulations for community corrections and identify any updates that may be needed to balance community needs with evolving strategies for reintegrating people back into society after incarceration. 

Federal regulations. Recent changes to federal fair housing regulations have resulted in some Denver regulations becoming non-compliant.


Generally speaking, the Denver Zoning Code breaks residential uses down into two use categories: Household Living and Group Living. These categories and their specific included uses are defined in the Use Definitions section of the Denver Zoning Code: Division 11.2. 


Household Living

Household Living is defined in Sec. and includes:

  • Single-Unit Dwellings: a single dwelling unit in a single structure, such as a detached house

  • Two-Unit Dwellings: two dwelling units contained in a single structure, such as a duplex

  • Multi-Unit Dwellings: three or more dwelling units contained in a single structure, such as an apartment building

  • Live/Work Dwelling: a combination of residential and commercial activity located within a dwelling unit. Live/Work Dwellings permit commercial activity as a primary use, alongside the residential use – this is in contrast with the limited Home Occupations that are regulated as accessory uses and permitted in other types of Dwelling Units.  

Household Living uses limit the number of unrelated individuals that may occupy the dwelling units described above. In a Two-Unit or Multi-Unit dwelling, four unrelated adults and any number of relatives to each may occupy each unit. In a Single-Unit dwelling, the Zoning Code currently permits the following combinations of residents:

  • A single person, plus any number of relatives
  • A “husband and wife,” plus any number of relatives to either
  • Two unrelated adults over the age of 18, plus any number of relatives to either

The code specifically lists allowable relatives, which generally include parents and grandparents, children and step-children, siblings and step-siblings, in-laws, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews. 


Group Living

Group Living is defined in Sec. and includes:

  • Assisted Living Facilities: A residential structure licensed by the state that houses more than 8 adults with 24-hour non-medical supervision. Examples include homes for people with disabilities and the elderly who require assistance with daily tasks like bathing and dressing. 

  • Community Corrections Facilities: Residential structures for three  or more persons who have been placed in a community corrections program by city, state or federal judicial or correctional departments. Residents of these facilities are often transitioning from incarceration back into society. 

  • Nursing Homes and Hospices: State-licensed establishments that provide 24-hour skilled nursing care. 

  • Residence for Older Adults: Single- or multi-unit dwellings that house unrelated, mobile persons 55 years or older, in excess of the number of persons permitted per dwelling unit . Such facilities do not require 24-hour supervision, and residents typically receive fewer services than what would be delivered in an Assisted Living Facility. 

  • Rooming and Boarding House: A residential structure containing one or more guest bedrooms that are rented for permanent occupancy. Meals may or may not be provided, but cooking facilities are not provided in individual rooms. 

  • Student Housing: A structure related to a college, university or seminary with common cooking facilities and gathering rooms. These can include dormitories and recognized fraternities and sororities. 

  • Transitional Housing: A residential structure that houses unrelated persons in excess of the number permitted per dwelling unit, where occupancy is more than 30 days but less than 2 years and is intended to help residents transition to permanent housing. Transitional Housing is often a first step out of homelessness. 

  • Special Care Home: A residential structure that houses unrelated persons in excess of the number of persons permitted per dwelling unit that provides more than 12 hours per day of treatment or care to address mental illness, behavioral problems (such as addiction) or other conditions.

  • Shelter for the Homeless: A facility that provides overnight sleeping accommodations for people experiencing homelessness. 

  • Safe House: A residential structure that provides a refuge from dangerous social situations or abuse. Note: Safe Houses are unique in the Group Living category in that they are permitted in any zone district that allows Multi-Unit Dwelling uses. 


Large and Small Residential Care Uses

Large and Small Residential Care Uses: Transitional Housing, Shelter for the Homeless, Community Corrections Facility and Special Care homes are considered Residential Care Uses. Each one is subject to special use limitations (see “How these uses are regulated,” below). 

Transitional and Special Care housing uses are further broken down by size:

  • “Large” = facilities serving 9 or more persons

  • “Small” = facilities serving 8 or fewer persons

Shelters for the Homeless and Community Corrections uses are always considered Large Residential Care uses, regardless of the number of occupants.  



How these uses are regulated 

These uses are regulated based on the definitions described above and in several other parts of the Zoning Code. 

Use Tables: Residential uses listed above appear in the "Use Table " for each of the Zoning Code’s Neighborhood Contexts. The Use Table shows where each defined use is permitted by zone district, and it identifies the required zoning procedure for each use. Zoning procedures may require an applicant to obtain a zoning permit, a zoning permit with public notice, or a Zoning Permit with Special Exception Review, which is reviewed by the city’s Board of Adjustments and may be subject to special conditions to limit potential negative impacts. 

  • Note: Special Care and Transitional Housing facilities are listed under Residential Care Uses, and are not individually named. Safe Houses are regulated as multi-unit dwellings. 

Use Limitations: Each Neighborhood Context Use Table has a column listing any Use Limitations associated with uses permitted in that district. Use limitations are included in Article 11 of the zoning code, and limitations for the Group Living use category begin in Section 11.2.6 . 

Residential Care Uses (Large and Small), especially Shelters for the Homeless and Community Corrections Facilities, are subject to the most stringent requirements. Limitations on Residential Care Facilities are intended to balance several issues:

  • Need for humane, equitable housing for special populations, 

  • Compliance with federal and state fair housing regulations, 

  • Prevention of Residential Care use concentration in neighborhoods, and  

  • Effective regulation and communication processes to help ensure such facilities are good neighbors.

Use limitations vary extensively by zone district and are difficult to summarize. Key examples are highlighted below. 

  • Designated Contact Person: Operators of Residential Care uses are required to designate a staff person to address questions and concerns from neighbors.
  • Spacing and Density Limitations: Large Residential Care Facilities are not permitted within 2,000 feet of other such uses, and no more than two others may exist within a 4,000-foot radius of the proposed new use. In Impacted Neighborhoods, up to 200 feet of additional spacing may be required by the Zoning Administrator. (Impacted Neighborhoods are those neighborhoods with more than the city-wide average number of Residential Care Uses within their boundaries.)
    Shelter and Community Corrections uses are subject to the most stringent requirements. For example, Community Corrections facilities are not permitted within 1,500 of a school or within 1,500 feet of a Residential Zone District.
  • Special requirements for Shelters for the Homeless: Some Large Residential Care uses, such as Shelters for the Homeless, have additional use limitations that vary by operator or other criteria. In Sec., the zoning code establishes three types of shelter uses:
  1. Shelter for the Homeless as a permanent, primary use
  2. Shelter for the Homeless as a primary or accessory use when operated by a place of religious assembly (such as a church)
  3. Shelter for the Homeless when operated in a building owned by a nonprofit corporation or by a government entity

    Permanent shelters as a primary use are permitted in higher-intensity mixed-use zone districts, industrial districts and others that are not solely residential. Permanent shelters are subject to the Use Limitations for Large Residential Care Facilities as described above and in Sec. 11.2.8. They also must meet special requirements for operations, including but not limited to mitigating the impact of waiting areas on adjacent public rights-of-way (preventing obstruction, etc.) and making restroom facilities available when the facility is closed.

    The Zoning Code provides more flexible options for shelter uses that are operated by a religious assembly. These include, but are not limited to, permission to operate in any zone district and looser restrictions on bed counts for shelters that operate for 120 days or less per year.

    Similarly, shelters operated by a government entity or nonprofit corporation, in which the Denver Department of Human Services plays some role in the operation, are also permitted in any zone district provided certain requirements for public notice and involvement have been met.  
  • Limitations on the Number of Residents: The Zoning Code’s Use Limitations limit the number of clients served by Residential Care facilities based on size, applicable zone district, etc. Shelters for the Homeless and Community Corrections Facilities are subject to the most stringent requirements. For example: 

Community Corrections Facilities are permitted in the I-MX zone district but are not permitted to exceed 40 residents, and they must provide 50 feet of gross floor area per person served. In the I-A and I-B zone districts, Community Corrections Facilities are permitted to have higher numbers of residents. 

Shelters for the Homeless established as permanent, primary uses are not permitted to have more than 200 beds, though some shelters with permits issued prior to Jan. 1, 2005, may have up to 350 beds. No more than 950 beds are permitted in any one city council district in homeless shelters that are permanent, primary uses. 


The project is expected to occur over several phases: 

  1. The first will involve working with the advisory committee to identify problem areas in the code. A public meeting will be held for public review and comment on the committee's draft definitions of the problems to be addressed in the code update.

  2. Next, the city, working with the committee, will develop proposed changes to the zoning code to address these issues. Another public meeting will be held for public review and comment on these proposed changes. 

  3. The proposed amendments will then be considered by the Denver Planning Board, Denver City Council subcommittees and ultimately, the full City Council for adoption. Finally, CPD’s Planning Services and Development Services divisions will collaborate to implement the amendments through training, updated forms, etc. 


An advisory committee will help evaluate existing regulations and provide insight into community needs and potential solutions. The advisory committee will represent a broad cross-section of community members, registered neighborhood organization (RNO) representatives, group-living service providers and clients, elected officials, design professionals and other stakeholders, to ensure an inclusive public process. The Denver Planning Board and City Council will consider advisory committee recommendations before City Council adopts any amendments to the Denver Zoning Code. 

Advisory Committee Meeting #1
5:30-8 p.m., Tuesday, March 20
Colorado Health Foundation
1780 Pennsylvania Street

Meeting materials and information will be posted here after the fact. 


Get Involved

Planners will host community meetings to gather input on problem identification and on potential code updates to address identified problems. The first public meeting is being planned for June 2018. More information will be available closer to the date. 

Any amendments would also go through  the public legislative process, which includes at least two public hearings.

Check back for information on  meetings and other opportunities for public input. 

Contact Us

Andrew Webb
Senior city planner

Eugene Howard
Associate city planner