City Council rejects offer to evict homeless campsite in Park Hill

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One of the sanctioned campsites was in the parking lot next to the Denver Community Church in Uptown. (Courtesy of Colorado Village Collaborative)

Residents opposed to a city-sanctioned homeless campsite in the parking lot of Park Hill United Methodist Church suffered another loss on Tuesday, as a city council dismissed their appeal demanding the removal of “the safe outdoor space “.

The Denver Adjustment Council voted 3-2 to dismiss the appeal filed by eight residents, which included neighboring homeowners who filed a lawsuit in May that was later dismissed by a Denver District Court judge.

Park Hill Campground opened in June and is one of two in town operated by the Colorado Village Collaborative nonprofit. It has 33 tents and can accommodate 40 people. The second campsite is on the campus of Regis University.

In October, Denver City Council authorized the zoning administrator to approve temporary campsites, but some Park Hill residents claimed on Tuesday that she had not acted within what she was permitted to do. to do.

Tina Axelrad, the city’s zoning administrator, said she followed the city’s zoning code and the decision was valid for the Park Hill site.

“The fact that the SOS site was temporary was essential in my comparison (zoning) exercises because it’s not going to stay there,” Axelrad said.

Axelrad said the needs of the city’s growing homeless population prompted her to extend the duration of sanctioned campsites until December 31, 2023, but she would need city council approval to extend it to the next day. -of the.

Camping at Park Hill is only permitted until the end of 2021.

Board member Charlie Young said sanctioned campsites, like cottage houses, are allowed in all zoning districts because they are not permanent structures. But he said the city’s ordinance should have addressed safety and health concerns, which the board is ignoring.

Rev. Nathan Adams of Park Hill United Methodist Church said the site was clean and quiet and had received comments from people who agreed with it.

“SOS provides a safe space and makes opportunities (for people to get housing) a reality,” Adams said.

City Council approved a contract with CVC in February for nearly $ 900,000 to operate the campsites. The organization also operates two small communities of shelters for the homeless in Denver.

Cole Chandler, executive director of CVC, told board members that his organization’s goal is to serve the homeless over the next two and a half years. He said the two locations, previously located in Uptown and Cap Hill, have provided much needed help.

“There was a lot of evidence that it had been a big success,” Chandler said. “The pandemic is not over for homeless people. Unvaccinated people are still required to use masks in our facilities. “

People who appealed the decision pointed to zoning in neighborhoods where the city code would prohibit such temporary use, but the council disagreed and said temporary shelters are allowed throughout the city. city.

Kurt Monigle, one of the people who sued the city for camping, argued that it deteriorates the neighborhood and goes against the zoning code by allowing inconsistent land use.

Monigle said he was not against the homeless, but that they needed more permanent and effective help.

“In this case, it is clear that the design standards have been abandoned … in favor of less desirable temporary solutions,” he said.

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Dave Rodman, Jean-Baptiste Varnier, Justin Lacov and Blair Taylor.

Varnier attempted to show slides on the health and safety issues he had with the campsite, but council members backed down, saying his points were irrelevant to the zoning issues.

Leah Capritta, a lawyer, said the town had failed to give local residents sufficient notice of the campsite’s arrival and that the decision violated the rights of the owners.

“The zoning administrator overstepped his constitutional authority, acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner,” said Capritta.

There was no one-time in-person tally in 2021 due to the pandemic, but Denver city officials have estimated that between 1,200 and 1,500 people could be living on the streets.

The Board of Adjustment has not yet finished discussing Park Hill Campground. On July 27, it will hear another appeal relating to the issuance of the specific zoning permit authorizing it.


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