On Feb. 22, Denver City Council unanimously passed a measure, sponsored by North Denver’s Amanda P. Sandoval and her at-large colleague Robin Kniech, to modernize the Board of Adjustment for Zoning Appeals (BOA). The updated ordinance gives the city until June 1 to seat a BOA that meets new professional requirements and has received training in the areas of zoning code; legal procedure; adopted plans; diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion; ADA; civil rights; and fair housing.
The new board will need to include at least one of each of the following: an architect; a professional in the field of urban planning, construction, engineering or development; and an attorney. Remaining members “should have a demonstrated interest in land use/zoning.”
Also included in the changes: City Council will now appoint two BOA members and one alternate; the mayor will do the same, and a fifth will be jointly appointed. Since the 1980s all seven have been appointed by the mayor.
Seven people spoke during the bill’s required public comment session. They spoke, for the most part, in favor of new training requirements. The professional requirement received some support, though one person raised the question of potential conflicts of interest and another wanted to see neighbor advocates more explicitly listed. Several pointed to inconsistent outcomes across cases they were familiar with. And nearly all pointed to the outdated criteria for hardship the BOA is required to focus their decisions on.
In response, Kniech emphasized a second phase of BOA modernization that she and Sandoval picture. “We as a city haven’t done well by this board. They are using the same criteria from 1924 to determine whether a property or a project needs a variance. That’s not okay. And it’s not okay because our values as a city aren’t always served.”
Kniech went on to detail, “It became clear that we have improvements that we can make. Those improvements almost always led back, first, to the [City] Charter. And so, tonight’s presentation was about those things that are within our ability to change by ordinance only. But we will have that second conversation. And that second conversation will be an attempt to address the feedback of every speaker who spoke tonight, whether they were community or board members or developers or neighborhood leaders, that we’ve got to look and modernize those criteria.”
Changes to the City Charter’s 1924 language laying out variance hardship criteria require a vote of the people. Sandoval and Kniech have indicated they will seek to do this as a referred measure on the Spring 2023 ballot. In the meantime, Mayor Hancock signed CB22-0093 (re-establishing the BOA) into law Feb. 23.
If you are interested in learning more about the BOA, visit Denvergov.org/BOA.
To apply to serve on the board, search for the “Boards and Commissions Application” page on the City of Denver website (denvergov.org/) to start the application process, or contact Councilmember Amanda P. Sandoval’s office.