How Zoning Works

For general information about Denver’s zoning

  1. Go to http://DenverGov.Org/. Zoning requirements for other cities are very similar.
  2. Click on A-Z Departments and Services
  3. In A-Z, click on “zoning permits” at the bottom of the alphabetical list.
  4. At the right side of this screen, you’ll see a green and blue box with the words printed “enter your property address”.
  5. Enter your address and your zone and zoning information will pop up. Print this page or write it down.
  6. Then go back to the drop down menu on the zoning tab, click on “Denver Zoning Code”. When the image opens, you can see the whole code or any one of the articles. For now, click on “General Provisions”. This will give you general information about the idea behind the code, how it’s organized, and so on.

To keep it simple, we are creating an example house which is in one of the most common zoning sections. This is called an urban house and it’s located in article 5, on page 5.3-5. Even though your zone may not be listed in article 5, the other zones are similar enough so you can understand the principle by which all this is organized.

As you can see, the code is divided into sections according to neighborhood density. Find the zone corresponding to the one you wrote down in “find your zoning”. If you don’t find your zone on the page above, look at the table of contents and go to that section. You’ll find the chart for your zone which is analogous to the example on the page above and you can interpolate. This information is itemized below:

  1. Building height
  2. Bulk plane
  3. Minimum sizes and dimensions for lots in the various zones
  4. Setbacks from the front, back, and side property lines
  5. Land coverage
  6. Garages
  7. Accessory dwelling units (ADU’s)
  8. Tandem houses

To learn more, click on this information, outlined in more detail, to the right.

As you can imagine, not everything is covered in this example. There are exceptions to the rules, specific ways of measurement, guidelines for zoning amendments, and so on.


Please let me know if you have any questions regarding the above. I can usually answer an email within 24 hours. If you are in a hurry, call me at 303.831.4455.

Steve Culbertson

How Zoning Works: ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units)

Accessory dwelling units (adu’s) were permitted years ago as carriage houses, but were not permitted in the old zoning code. Now, in the new zoning code, they are permitted again. Adu’s must have their own address and can be rented, but they can’t be sold. Also, they have the same type of restrictions as the primary structure on your property.

  1. First, to learn more, take a look at the two definitions for an adu in the zoning code. These occur on pages 11.12-30 and 13.3-1. There are variations but 99% of all adu’s are apartments over a garage.
  2. If it’s a detached adu, as in a separate building or over the garage, you can learn more by seeing page 5.3-35.
  3. A detached adu can be 1 ½ stories and 24’ high. As with the garage, the vertical leg of the bulk plane is 10’ with an inward slope of 45 degrees from the top. The requirement for 1 ½ stories means that the upper floor area can only be a maximum of 75% of the area of the ground floor.
  4. To make the adu more visible to emergency vehicles, the building has to touch the south side set back line.
  5. Lot sizes are limited in the same way as the house lots except that we get a 50% exception for land coverage, up to a maximum of 500 sf. The exception doesn’t apply unless we are 15’ from the main house, and at least 80% of the ground floor is used for parking. (ie. a garage)
  6. If located in the rear 35% of the lot, the side lot and rear setbacks are 5’, unless the lot is <30’ wide. If less than 30’ the side lot setback is 3’.
  7. In addition to the above, the land coverage (footprint) is limited to 650 sf if the lot is <6,000sf. The coverage is 864 sf if the lot <7,000sf and 1,000 sf if the lot > 7,000sf.

Please let me know if you have any questions regarding the above.

Steve Culbertson

How Zoning Works: How Long Does It Take? What Does It Cost?

It’s a little hard to determine the cost of beginning a permit because there are so many moving parts. However, this should at least give you a reasonable idea. All the components below are necessary expenses to bring your permit application to the building department. From this “log-in” phase, it can take from 60 to 90 days for a review to begin.

  1. Hire a surveyor.
    1. The majority of all projects will require a survey to determine the existing aspects of the property such as exact size, location of improvements, and so on. Many architects won’t begin a project without a survey.
    2. This cost varies from $500 to $800.
  2. Hire a soils engineer.
    1. If the project is a free standing new structure, a soil report is a requirement. In non-typical soil conditions, it’s a good idea for any project. The good news is that this information isn’t needed before the architectural design begins.
    2. This cost also varies from $500 to $800.
  3. Hire an architect / structural engineer.
    1. This varies from person to person and from project to project. Your best option is to contact one and see what they charge.
    2. Most architects will have a construction cost range for projects similar to yours. Typically building a project is approximately 50% to 65% of the cost to buy the same thing already built.
    3. Normally, half of the fee is due when design is complete and the remainder when the drawings are complete.
  4. Pay the permit fee.
    1. The zoning fee is a function of project cost but normally it varies from $100 – $200.
    2. Using the most typical cost range, the building permit fee is $770 for the first $100,000 and $5.60 for each additional $1000. So for a construction cost of 150k the fee would be $1050, and so on.
  5. Pay the wastewater fee.
    1. The wastewater fee, if we are doing no construction is $100.
    2. With construction it runs about $300, unless a new tap is required.

Please let me know if you have any questions regarding the above.

Steve Culbertson